Under Her Eye review: Paris is Burning

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Read the shortlisted Under Her Eye reviews then vote for your favourite.

As part of Stylist’s Under Her Eye initiative, we’re on the hunt for three new female film critics. We asked aspiring reviewers to send in a 450-word review of their favourite film – and after an overwhelming response, we’ve whittled it down to a shortlist of 20. 

Read one woman’s review of  Paris is Burning below and click here to see the other entries and vote for your favourite.

On the label, Paris is Burning, is a Sundance Competition winning documentary which examines the lives of men of the drag ball scene in Harlem in the late Eighties. But, Paris is Burning is so much more than a film. It’s an active ‘f**k you’ to everyone who tells us to be ‘normal’ and would punish us for not being so. It’s a testament to the power of loving yourself and others. And, most importantly, it introduced the words ‘shade’ and ‘vogue’ into my life – I mean, a world without these terms, is one I do not care to live in!

Through candid interviews with the people who attend and run the drag balls, we see how the club’s queer community is able to use drag to seize things they are denied elsewhere.

For instance, family? The ‘houses’ – groups one creates costumes, vogues, and casts shade for, are the chosen and most precious families the people who attend the club have ever known. Prestige? Those walk in the balls, and are applauded for their ‘acquired’ or constructed outfits, practiced movement, gain the praise and adoration desired yet denied in the ‘outside’ world.

By dressing and passing as naval officers, spoilt Beverley Hills teenage girls, businessmen, ‘real’ women, they scream to society, see, if I was just given a chance, if I hadn’t been born into poverty, and then demonised for my sexuality and gender, I, too, could be accepted as one of you – our differences are merely superficial.

While the people we meet – Willy Ninja, Venus Extravaganza – show the ridiculousness of what society idolises and ostracises through displays of sequins, blush, heels and attitude, sadly as the film progresses we see them struggle and, in some cases, fail, to escape the fates capitalist society has cast them. Homelessness, the AIDS virus, physical assault, and prostitution have to be navigated by the majority, if not all.

But that’s what makes the balls, and the documentary, so beautiful and so powerful. Out of deep pain and rejection, the men have found each other and created a world of love, beauty, prestige and acceptance. They are evidence that even in the darkest of places, love and wonder can be found.

Today, the world can be, quite frankly, depressing. Every day it can seem like it’s becoming less tolerant, less accepting, less forgiving. This film is a much-needed reminder that we can quite literally ‘be’ the change we want to see in the world – there is power in the performance of our actions and character. 

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