One of my favorite film bloggers Nathaniel R at The Film Experience holds a participatory series called “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. This series encourages anyone with a love of film and a space to post to select their favorite screenshot from a film selected by Nathaniel. Where I have watched others post over the past few years, I have never participated….UNTIL NOW!
For this first HMWYBS, the film is the 1991 drag documentary Paris is Burning. I first saw this film a few years back when taking a “Sexual Diversity in Literature & Film” course at West Virginia University. Mind, that last sentence may sound like an oxymoron with sexual diversity and WVU mentioned in the same breath, and it is. Some girl walked out on the first day of class after the instructor explained that we were going to be discussing racial, ethnic, and cultural aspects of lit and film, with a large portion related to gender expression/identity and sexual orientation. I guess thinking about gay and trans people disturbed her backwoods sensitivities. But, really, what did she expect from a class on sexual diversity? The documentary became one of my favorite pieces examined in the class, which also featured Hedwig, Orlando (the movie with the brilliant Tilda Swinton), Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and a number of other works.
Paris is Burning, for those unfamiliar with the documentary, is the story of the drag scene in New York City, primarily revolving around the “Balls” (think pageants) circuit in 1987. Notably, this film was one of the first introductions to drag, as well as the various other categories in the balls, to mainstream America. These performers aspired to “realness” in their drag, wanting to become the image they were trying to convey, whether it be a beautiful woman, military man, or passing as a “normal boy” (read: not gay). In an age of homophobia, racism (most of the subjects are not white), and AIDS, this bastion of the gay acceptance held some of the few happy moments for these sexual and gender minorities. This film can be taken as a vocabulary lesson on drag culture and history. If you taut yourself as a fan of RuPaul’s drag race or you tip your local drag queens on weekend nights, watch this documentary! Also, this film was one of the debuts of “vogueing”, as made popular by Madonna in the early 90s.
Paris is Burning is available on Netflix Instant, so if you have access, you have no excuse to not watch it!
So, here are my choices for some of the best shots:
MY BEST SHOT:
For my best shot, I chose an image of Willie Ninja, mother of the House of Ninja and one of the innovators of vogueing, in a very nice pose. This man was passionate and very talented in his craft, eventually inspiring Madonna’s “Vogue” music video. This is one of the lasting impacts of this film and is still notable in society.
I look forward to the other choices celebrated from this documentary. Happy viewing!