Paris Is Burning is a 1990 documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the various ethnicities, including African American, Latino gay and transgender community involved in it. Many consider Paris Is Burning to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the “Golden Age” of New York City drag balls, as well as a thoughtful exploration of race, class, and gender in America.
Jennie Livingston, who never went to film school and who spent seven years making Paris Is Burning, concentrated on interviews with key figures in the ball world, many of whom contribute monologues that shed light on the ball culture as well as on their own personalities. In the film, titles such as “house,” “mother,” and “reading” emphasize how the subculture the film depicts has taken words from the straight and white worlds, and imbued them with alternate meanings, just as the “houses” serve as surrogate families for young ball-walkers whose sexual orientations have sometimes made acceptance and love within their own families hard to come by.