Paris Is Burning is an American documentary by Jennie Livingston on the drag/queer scene in the 1980’s in New York City. It focuses on African-American and Latino gay and transgender communities that were involved in the scene.
The film shows how the “ball” was born and how contestants would have to fit into a category and be judged on their “realness” (how well they have portrayed the category). While the judging may seem harsh at first, it comes from a loving place. Many formed “houses”, which are groups of people that form a family as they were rejected by their biological families. It also addresses the popular terms of “shade” and “reading” that, all these terms that are still used today.
I found it really emotional watching, as it shows the racism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty and AIDS related issues that the drag/queer community had to deal with in a time where New York was far from accepting. The film is a must watch for anyone, but particularly people interested in drag, as it shows the true origins of a lot of the content you see in modern day drag (i.e. RuPaul’s Drag Race).
The film can be purchased on Amazon here.