Paris is Burning by Jennnie Livingston deals with the culture of drag in New York in the 1980s, which was shown in the Ball competitions wherein men who impersonate, or better yet try to live as women walks and are judged based on their dancing ability, the beauty of their dresses and the authenticity of their impersonation. Each contestant represents a specific house and whenever they win; their respective houses gain a legendary status. The film was presented by showing alternate footages between the ball competition and interviews with the contestants.
Although a very notable film, Paris is Burning is also highly criticized especially by feminists. In watching the film, you will see how the contestants try to portray how women look like basing on “stereotypical” identities or those greatly based on what men would like in a woman physically, making her the subject of desire. It failed to show the other characteristics and essence of women such as their social roles, the drags just focused on the aspects that perpetuate men’s hierarchy.
It further undermines women by interpreting that being a woman makes one powerless which manifested in one of the interviews wherein one of the drags say that he will never become a woman because having the female genitalia does not necessarily mean that life would be great. Thus, many saw that this film as a mocking or women. On the other hand, the film succeeded in the presentation of yet another marginalized culture which is that of the gay.
It was able to put their character at the centre of the film and elaborated on their culture. It was able to shed light on the often misunderstood “third’ gender and was able to present their side of the story. Then again, as was said earlier, it was done so by challenging the essence of women, which would make us think if it was able to resolve any issues at all. Thus we ask, was the film really an exposure of the drag culture or a celebration of the patriarchal society?