Weekend Music: Got To Be Real - Cheryl Lynn



I attended the Scion Independent Film Festival screening of Paris Is Burning last night at Center Stage. The cult documentary from 1990 about the vouging scene (made famous in Madonna's hit song "Vogue") in New York's gay community drew about 75 people, including good friends Geri, Teresa and Peter. We hadn't seen in each other in ages, so it was great to catch up and share the film.

It had been at least ten years since I'd seen Paris Is Burning and I had forgotten how funny and sad it was. Filmmaker Jennie Livingston chronicled the lives of members of NYC's "fashion houses" - clubs of gay and transgendered people - who competed in drag "balls" to see who could be the most "real." And when the documentary was filmed in 1987-89, "real" meant trying to assimilate into straight life. I had forgotten about these mostly young men and boys who dreamed of becoming rich and famous (and finding acceptance), but were scrabbling together a life with odd jobs (and often prostitution and theft) just so they could compete in the balls. Many had been forced out of their homes by parents who could not condone their sexuality. The film was a celebration of this sub-culture, the blurring of gender and race lines and helped redefine the meaning of the word "family."

While no one ever talks about it anymore, Madonna stole the whole concept of vouging without giving credit to the community that created it, especially Willi Ninja, one of the driving forces of the film who died from complications related to AIDS in 2006. One of the members of Willi's house, Richard Ninja, was at the screening and did a Q&A afterwards. Many in the audience were shocked to learn that the majority of the people chronicled in the film have died, many from AIDS. It was a very sobering moment.

The ballroom scene has evolved significantly since the film, becoming more active in the community and supporting HIV/AIDS organizations. Most importantly, the houses are still offering friendship and support to young people from the GLBTQ community. Balls still take place "every day" in New York, according to Richard Ninja, and they are also happening in Atlanta on a regular basis. It's still underground, but apparently there is a big ball happening during the MLK Day weekend in 2008. I'll try to dig up more.

The Weekend Music selection was featured prominently in Paris Is Burning.

Comments

KATE EVANS said…
LOVE Paris is Burning. It's an amazing film.

TO BE REAL...that's sure a blast from the past. Makes me think of my wrap-around Danskin skirt and body suit, dancing at Marmelade Max!
Pris said…
I'm going to see if Netflix has it. They seem to have nearly everything. the film sounds very moving, Collin. Thanks for making me aware of it. The name is familiar but I don't remember ever seeing it.
BLUE said…
oh no you didn't! (Cheryl Lynn)

light!
~blue

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