Paris Is Burning (1990)

by British Film Critic

Let me just say right off the bat, that the premise and culture that Paris Is Burning revolves around is something I honestly hadn’t even considered in my life, and yet I have absolutely gripped from the get-go all the same. Suffice to say, I loved this film. It had everything that I cherish from my all times favourites – bursting with life, bursting with character, bursting with cutting social commentary, bursting with energy – and so, so much more.

Considering all of that, considering how incredibly personal, intimate and consistently involved this film is, it’s infinitely more impressive given the fact that Jennie Livingston, the director, is someone who had no prior experience or understanding of this particular facet of life, yet you wouldn’t for a second have even guessed that from watching the film itself.

Seeing public pride amongst those in the LGBTQ+ community in our modern times is wonderful, to say the very least, but Paris Is Burning takes us back to New York in the late 80s, a time and a place where broader acceptance of gay and trans individuals was excruciatingly lower than it is today, the Reagan administration had consistently raged an open war on the queer community, along with countless other widespread oppressive systems felt by those without the privilege of being heterosexual. For these reasons alone, being able to spend time with all of these beautiful individuals living in an incredibly ugly time, being able to see them live freely, to be proud, to be content, to be honest is so very meaningful.

There was more than one occasion when I was really struck by just how powerful and poignant what was coming out of these peoples’ mouths was, given there are no scripts to prompt them to do so. Subject matter aside, the filmmaking on display is almost flawless from start to finish – this really has to be one of, if not my favourite documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s uplifting, it’s disheartening, it’s scathing in its commentary, it’s timeless, it’s empowering, it’s electric, and it’s often all of these things at once. I really can not recommend Paris Is Burning to anyone and everyone enough.