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The Place of the Past

Malek Allari | Editor-In-Chief

Paris is Burning is a documentary by Jennie Livingston representing the drag culture that was dominated by the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. One of the most important topics of cultural studies that the documentary touched base on was the importance of place. In cultural studies, the place could be physical, mental, and social. A physical place could be a place where a person is living, born, or raised in. The mental place is the mental state that the person is going through. Finally, the social place is in what class does a person fits in, whether it is high, middle, or lower class.

The physical place where Paris is Burning introduced the drag culture was in NYC. NYC is the home of all three social classes. The people who were introduced in Paris is Burning are people of the lowest middle class and the lower class. For example, it is shown in the documentary the houses of some people of the drag culture and how they live in a leaking house or a house full of rags and ripped clothes. That signifies how poor people in drag culture were.

Another physical place introduced was the ball. The ball in the documentary, or even to drag culture, is the place where people can be themselves in any way they want. They can also do role-play to characters that they dream of being, but because of social restraint, they can not be the people they really want to be outside the ball. The documentaries also showed the audience how the people of drag culture can be outside of the ball and how they can sometimes be themselves, but it will come with social consequences.

The mental place is what people have experienced in their lives and has affected them in the long term, causing them to develop trauma. In Paris is Burning, Venus Xtravaganza was killed by strangling under the bed of a hotel in New York. Venus was also abused when she was discovered by men that she was transgender, and they would beat her up, and sometimes she would be attacked in the streets. These events create traumatic reactions within a person, but it is also them that choose whether it will affect them or not. In the case of Venus, she was strong and brave enough to not let her affect her one bit.

The social place is when a person falls into a class within society, and drag culture at the time had fallen under the lower class. Not only because of their sexual orientation but also because of the discrimination they faced for being people of color. In the documentary, nearly all of the people introduced were part of the LGBTQ+ community, and they were a person of color, more specifically people of Black and Latinx heritage.

Paris is Burning is an important documentary that introduces the drag culture and the LGBTQ+ community; however, the documentary also sets a dark mood. There have been issues between the people in the documentary and the director as to why the mood was dark and why did it only show the “dark side” of drag culture with a touch of they can really be free from social restraints.


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