Paris Is Burning

Synopsis: This is a documentary of 'drag nights' among New York's underclass. Queens are interviewed and observed preparing for and competing in many 'balls'. The people, the clothes, and the whole environment are outlandish.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Jennie Livingston
Production: Academy Entertainment
  16 wins & 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
71 min

( dance)

(indistinct chatter)

(man) I remember my dad said,

"You have three strikes against you in this world.

"Every black man has two -

that they're just black

and they're male.

"But you're black

and you're male and you're gay.

You're gonna have a hard

f***ing time."

Then he said,

"If you're gonna do this,

you're gonna have

to be stronger than you ever imagined."

You have to open the door.

You-all have to open that door, too.


(man) Get off the floor.

Get off the floor.

Learn it... and learn it well.

All right, Miss Pepper.

All right!

Girl, look at

those velvety heels!

Do you want me to say

who I am and all of that?


I'm Pepper LaBeija... Oh.


I am Pepper LaBeija,

the legendary mother

of the House of LaBeija.

Not the founder.

Crystal was the founder.

I'm... I just rule it now.

With a soft glove.

And it's important to me

to be the mother

'cause there's so many

little kids that I have to look out for.

Although they don't listen to me

and they buck my authority,

I still think I rule it

pretty well. They like me.

I'm one of the more popular ones

and I've been around

for two decades.

Reigning, that is.

You know, I've got more

grand prizes than all the rest.

Gay people - men -

gather together under one roof

and decide

to have a competition amongst themselves.


I went to a ball,

I got a trophy

and now everybody

wants to know me.

This movie is about

the ball circuit

and the gay crew

that's involved in it

and how each person's life

brought them to this circuit.

It's like crossing into

the looking glass in Wonderland.

You go in there and you feel...

you feel a hundred percent right

as being gay.

And that's not what it's like

in the world.

That's not what

it's like in the world.

That's not what

it's like in the world.

You know, it should be

like that in the world.

This society - going to a football game,

basketball - that's their entertainment.

You know, a ball is ours.

We prepare for a ball.

We may spend more time

preparing for a ball

than anybody would spend

preparing for anything else.

You know,

a ball is like our world.

A ball is, to us,

is as close to reality

as we're gonna get to all

of that fame and fortune

and stardom and spotlights.

(Pepper) I'd always see

the way that rich people lived

and I'd feel it more, you know.

It would slap me in the face.

I'd say,

"I have to have that."

Because I never felt

comfortable being poor.

I just don't. Or even,

middle class doesn't suit me.

Seeing the riches,

seeing the way people

on "Dynasty" lived,

these huge houses.

And I would think,

"These people have 42 rooms in their house!

Oh, my God, what kind

of a house is that?" And we've got three.

So why is it that they can

have it and I didn't? I always felt cheated.

I always felt cheated

out of things like that.

(man) You have space to do

all that you intend to.

Now, the categories are:

Butch Queen, one through 17.

And for the girls,

18 through 30.

As far as all of you-all

not walking,

please realize that we all,

at one time or another,

have lusted to walk

a ballroom floor.

So give the patrons

and the contestants, you know,

a round of applause for nerve,

'cause with you-all

vicious motherfuckers,

it do take nerves.

Believe me. We're not going

to be shady, just fierce.

Those balls are more or less

like our fantasy of being a superstar.

You know, like the Oscars

or whatever,

or being on a runway

as a model.

You know, a lot of those kids that are in

the balls, they don't have two of nothing.

Some of them don't even eat.

They come to balls starving.

And they sleep in the Under 21,

or they sleep on the Pier

or wherever.

They don't have a home to go to,

but they'll make...

They'll go out and they'll steal something,

and then get dressed up

and come to a ball

for that one night and live the fantasy.

( disco)

A ball is the very word.

Whatever you want to be,

you be.

So at a ball, you have a chance

to display your elegance,

your seductiveness,

your beauty, your wit,

your charm, your knowledge.

You can become anything

and do anything

right here, right now

and it won't be questioned.

I came, I saw, I conquered.

That's a ball.

(man) Give her what she want!

She bring her to you every ball.

Why you-all gagging so?

I guess I like the excitement.

You know, some cheering and

screaming, if you were good.

And that's what got me.

I like the competition.

Makes me stronger.

Makes me think more.

Makes me want to come back

and get them.

It's not just the winning,

it's... it's the giving, too.

'Cause I feel that I give

a lot of enjoyment

to a lot of people

that go to balls.

And they enjoy to see it

and I enjoy to walk for them.

So, that's my philosophy,

as I should say.

To be legendary is, like,

their goals. To be legendary.

You know, let you know

I'm legendary and you're not. That's...

You know,

it feels good to them. (woman) Like in...?

An Oscar.

An Oscar, right.

You become a legend,

you have an Oscar. It's the same thing.

I don't really consider myself

a real legend.

I've been at the balls

with the legendary children

and I've stamped myself

with the legendary children.

But I'm really...

I'm one of the top, upcoming children.


We have legendary children

and upcoming legendary children.

We're the upcoming ones. We've been out

longer than the ones that are here now.

And we done had our...

We have our status in the ballroom.

How long did it take you

to do the tank top?

An hour.

An hour?


You don't do that.

It usually doesn't take you

an hour to do a shirt,

especially a

tank top. Mm-mm.

That's not your speed.

(man) Kim Pendavis.

Statement, "Future legend."

Kim and me have...

We've been together...

And it's more or less me.

I'm the one that's Kim's protg.

Because I go with Kim

to the balls,

help him out, help him iron.

'Cause if I don't go

to a ball with him and iron,

I mean, he'll be there wrinkled.

Or he'd be there ironing.

But, you know, it helps out

when somebody else is there in your corner,

at your side to say,

"Yeah, you can do it. You're gonna be fine.

Just go out there and do

what you usually do."

What do I get out of it?

Just simple, you know,

joy, satisfaction.

That's it. Not... You know,

I don't really ask much.

And then from time to time,

later on, I could wear the outfit.


Everyone waiting in the wings,

you know you have to make room

for Pepper LaBeija.

Pepper LaBeija, Pepper LaBeija.

Give her some walking music.

(man) Liz Taylor is famous.

Pepper LaBeija.

So is Pepper LaBeija.

In a sense, so am I.

But a very much

different quantity.

No magazine's gonna run up to

cover me if I go to a premiere.

But it's still a fame.

It's a small fame.

But you absorb it,

you take it.

And you like it.

You like the adulation,

the applause.

The people cheering you on,

the winning.

It's like a physical high,

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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