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Paris Is Burning Essay, Research Paper
There is a general consensus about things our society labels as Taboo. The sort of topics looked down upon range from prostitution to age of consent. Most will agree that taboo issues are not morally correct. But there are some things that are taboo which need a little more thought before being put into that category. Gender bending has continuously been made into a horrible thing not to be mentioned unless it is the center of a joke. Paris Is Burning presents the real life story of gay men in Harlem who come together in one desperate act of self-fulfillment. By selecting related interview clips and juxtaposing them between actual shots of competitions, Jennie Livingston connects and expresses struggle and hardship as the glue that holds gay Harlem together. In addition, she hopes to send a message that creates an overall view of a family unit apparent and necessary in gay metropolitan life.
What exactly is a ball? Pepper Labeija remarks, Gay people, men, gather together under one roof and decide to have a competition amongst themselves. The ball scene is the first that gives the viewer a glimpse of the event circuit the film focuses on. We see a cutaway from the bold word BALLS to the ballroom where men are hauling giant trophies across the open stage. What follows are scenes of dance and performance with over laying narration of actual ball participants who are explaining the significance of the trophies and fame that come with the event. An interview with Pepper Labejia, reveals that these balls are like the Oscars for them.
Next are various clips from fashion magazines, designer stores, and people shopping. The scenes are of all white people. The black narrator is talking the entire time of how uncomfortable it is to be poor in life and of a much-desired luxurious one. The scene cuts back to focus on trophies again. All is followed by interviews of real ball participants explaining the competition aspect of balls while sewing ballroom outfits.
By utilizing side-by-side images of white culture contrasted with the interviews, Livingston wishes to relay that the ball is as close to fame, fortune and starlight that any of these black people will ever come. The kids who participate have nothing, including food, homes, and family. Through interview and live testimonials, we learn most will go to desperate measures, including stealing, just to live up one glorious night at the gay ball. The producer continuously cuts back to the trophy possibly to emphasize an infatuation with fame amongst this group. It is the only way that they can escape the harsh reality of their low standing on the socio-economic scale.
Famous disco songs play over footage of heterosexual people on a busy street. It cuts to scenes of various gay men dressed as what they believe to be realistic men and women. Realistic is explained as being straight in sexual orientation. The scene is voice over with the narrator mentioning, If you can pass the trained eye, or untrained eye, and not give away the fact that you are gay, that s when it is real. Then cuts to an interview with Pepper Labeija who talks of the humiliating time his father caught him on roadside dressed as a woman. It cuts once again to scene of a more effeminate looking male blow-drying natural long hair. This interview begins with the caption of her name in bold. It reads Venus Extravaganza . She talks on bed about how some people think transgender people are sick and twisted; while the others think they are some of the most gorgeous special things on earth. Yet another cut to the Pepper interview, him explaining the significance of his role in the family circuit. Then cuts to street scene of two young teens out on the street at two-thirty a.m.
The director uses actual testimonial of the transgender individuals in this scene to express this urgency to fit in and blend well with the greater heterosexual society. There is emphasis on real women, or real men, straight men. The key to success is to look like actual women you would see on the street. Not flashy but real looking. In order to blend in with society these transgender want to give society what they want to see. By dressing to their best abilities they can erase the flaws from which society shuns their lifestyle. Most have no mother. The broken homes and upset parents push them to the street where they encounter the larger gay population and form imitation families. The explanation behind this coming together lies in the ostracism from family and society.
The following scene takes to the streets where a group of gay men are walking and talking. They discuss the meaning of their House. Houses, they explain, are for people who don t have families. According to the narrator the families are similar to street gangs because everyone shares a common bond. We see actual posters of these family gangs, which are advertising one of their drag shows. Next a long list of the various House names is scrolled across the screen. A cut to a scene in a park of seven young men and women who are saying their house names as the camera pans from left to right down the line. Leading us to the next scene is a cut to Venus extravagnaza who explains how she was incorporated into her house by an old house legend. It is an interview piece of her talking about the first time she was introduced to beautiful drag queens that inspired her. Once again we see the young boys during the late night talking about how drag queens relate to one another. He explains how all in the gay community are sisters because they are either gay or hold a transgender status. Anji Extravaganza, a drag queen, then explains how important her family is because of their support through a sex change. This is an interview shot with cut in between scenes of getting ready for a ball. The final cut is to the street. There her whole family is openly admiring her breasts, which were not possible without their support.
During these cuts, back and forth from interview to actual footage, the viewer picks from the content a strong cure to the pain and ostracism society has placed on these transgender. They form these houses as a way to make up for a family who has made them outcasts in the world. The director makes this completely understood from the testimonials of all the women. The women here would like more than anything to be the opposite sex. The cutting from interviews to the interviewee acting at a show enforces the idea by presenting proof. The proof lies in the footage.
As the agenda becomes clearer with continuing interviews and action sequences from a ball, the viewer gains a strong sense of hardships leading to the adaptation of these individual family groups in the gay New York area. The Ball , where the families best compared to a street gang fight on non-violent terms, holds the gay community together like patchwork. Love and support is expressed through glamour competitions of self-confidence and strength. Here at these competitions is where the pain and hurt caused by the outside world is freed off of ones shoulders and is no longer apparent in their lives. The Balls in New York at this time show a large step in the transgender community, one that is still growing with acceptance. More and more people choose to live their life as another sex and do so successfully with a little detection from the rest of the world.
Because Paris is Burning is nearly two decades old, it exaggerates the feelings of our society against transgender. Paris is Burning shows how decades of pain and struggle in any oppressed group can eventually lead to less drastic treatment and better acceptance by the greater society. Transgender people used to be killed for the way they feel inside. This has all changed and that alone should be given much credit.
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