New York, 1987
Paris is burning is a documentary whose main theme can be described in three words: Black, gay, men. It reflects the lives of these persons within one specific place: ball. What really matters is the significance of this place for the characters, it’s a place where they can be themselves, a place where they can do anything they wish and be anyone they want. So, their own real identity is created over there.
Through the interviews, we see the struggle of these people with some major problems within that society as homophobia, racism., poverty., and even rejection from their families because of their sexuality.
Actually, the models that they imitate in the ball rooms are white and rich. Even those who imitate actresses they choose ones like Marylin Monroe for example but never black ones. Therefore, in Gramsci terms there is a cultural hegemony of white and precisely a specific social class. This white supremacy is the cultural hegemony that’s dominating the minds of the characters. In this case, race isn’t just a color of skin, but actually it forms a part of ideology that’s associated with certain aspects within our minds including social class and power from among others. Not only class and race are the models to follow, but also heterosexuality forms part of the hegemonic culture as well. To confirm this point, as the title mentions, Paris represents the place of white way of living, looking and dressing . On the other hand, the colors in the movie were really related with all the actions as they were concentrated on three: red, black and white. Three colors which are related with sexuality, passion and power. Moreover, music plays a major role in the movie and relates deeply with the actions and with the emotions of the characters.
Bell Hooks in her essay “The Oppositional Gaze” talks about how movies were always directed to white spectators and never to black ones. Even if there are black actors they are either ridiculised or violent. In Paris is burning, although the movie could be considered to be directed to black spectators, its director is white and controlled it from a white hegemonic point of view because despite of apparently concentrating on lives of black men, it actually shows that their sole aim is to be like white as if they were destined to be subordinated to this hegemonic culture for the rest of their lives.
Hooks and Butler talked about the movie from two different perspectives: Hooks from the race point of view and Butler on performance aspect. Talking about performance of the realness in the ball, these persons feel like subjects over there and in Freudian terms the compulsion to repeat this act, gives them pleasure and creates their real identity. In one of the performances in the ball which takes place between two persons who don’t like each other, performance is made by hands and one of the actor said this hand is the mirror for them to look at which implies Lacan definition of subjectivity through the mirror image.
Although Benjamin mentioned that with the new technological revolution, masses got a closer look to objects and cinema is the art of the masses, actually still as seen in this movie, the urban media and everything is being controlled by a specific ideology which controls our perception as well.
The movie as a whole gave me the opportunity to know a world I did ignore but these are the questions I’d like to ask:
-Why movies which talk about homosexuality are always discussed from a phallocentric perspective? Because movies about lesbians are much less(as far as I know) than those of gay men.
-Would have the movie been different if it was made by a black director?