If you doubted that ballroom was at the fore again, doubt no more. Paris Is Burning, the 1990 documentary that offered much of the world a first look into the then-growing New York-based ballroom scene of the 1980s, will make its return to New York on June 14 for a two-week run at the city’s Film Forum. The screenings will precede a national rollout of the film which has been newly restored in a process overseen by director Jennie Livingston.
Paris Is Burning introduced the world to ballroom stars like Willi Ninja, considered the godfather of voguing, as well as Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Octavia St. Laurent, Venus Xtravaganza, and more. Through Corey’s on-screen lessons, the world and pop culture at large were also introduced to words like “reading,” “shade,” and “realness” with such clarity that they have gained widespread usage. In combination with Madonna’s “Vogue” (and events like Susanne Barsch’s Love Ball which will return in June as well,) when released, the film catapulted ballroom into the mainstream with cast members shot in magazines and interviewed on daytime television.
The film indelibly cast a lasting shadow serving as reference points for almost every ballroom project in the mainstream that has come after it including Viceland’s My House, FX’s Pose (which in its initial iteration began as an extension of Paris Is Burning) as well as underground projects like the 2006 How Do I Look. Its influence is so important that in 2016 the film was added to the National Film Registry. At the time, the film became one of 700 that had received the honor.
The film’s release gave way to controversy though as some cast members involved accused Livingston of profiting off a community she was not a part of, and also not portraying the community in the best light. She was eventually sued by some, which she settled out of court. Notably, the controversy has arisen again surrounding screenings of the film.
Livingston has a producer credit on season one of Pose and according to a 2018 New Yorker profile of showrunner Ryan Murphy, is entitled to direct an episode in the show’s upcoming second season.
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