Review on”Paris is burning”

        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?

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9 Responses to Review on”Paris is burning”

  1. Monica P. says:

    -Would have the movie been different if it was made by a black director?

    Yes, I think it would be. Each director puts their own perspectives and biases in the movies that they make, this cannot be avoided. They control what is being shown (and what isn’t), what questions are asked, from what viewpoint the film is shown, etc. But how a black director would have portrayed the film, I have no idea, I just know it would have been different. Perhaps more relatable to a black audience? (since hooks is saying that Livingston’s movie in the end related to a white audience because she is white).

    • doaa25 says:

      I don’t think it would have been necesarily directed to black audience because the movie is directed to them. But , it’d rather have been from a closer black perspective going deeper into the issues presented in the movie rather than that superficial way.

  2. jorge says:

    “Black” “gay” and “men”- 3 words to describe “Paris is burning”?
    I would replace at least two of those (“Black” and “men”) with other words- maybe “transgender” is a better word, maybe; plain old “sex” could be another, “intolerance” could be another, etc.etc
    also: do you really think that homosexuality is ALWAYS discussed from a phallocentric perspective in movies? is that all there is to the issue “at hand”? and what do you think that perspective entails, anyway, for it to be like a special type of impediment for viewing?

    • doaa25 says:

      Intolerance, homphobia are from among the problems characters suffer from but I tried to summarized this terms (not only me also the reviews we read on mive)according to gender, sexuality and race.
      And yes I think they are always presented from a phallocentric perspectives, because I didn’t see as much movies talking about lesbians(as main charaters) as those of male gays.

  3. Reno Baptista says:

    Hello, very interesting you blog. If you use the word gay to describe something, you are saying almost nothing, because the concept is very, very complex and full of elements that depends of place, time, class, race, etc. Also “men” what exactly that mean? “Black” as a description? Don’t you think is just too superficial? Even when we talk about ‘white’ we have to contextualize into place and time if not sounds like a old alarmism. About your question of the black director, I say YES, but not because the other is black, is just because is another person.

    • doaa25 says:

      Thanks for you comment. I agree that these terms are complex but as we’re talking about queer theory here gay refers to sexuality, men to male world, the main focus on movie as there was to reference to black lesbians for example and black as the race of the characters. As complicated as these terms may sound, we can’t change the socio-cultural-ideological conventions already constructed as you see it tool century to move from term homosexual to gay for example then from gay to lesbian and we’ll see if there’ll be more changes in the future.
      As for the director, do you only think it would ahve been different because it’d be a different person regardless of the race? I think if it were black filmmakker, it wouldn’t have talked about this issue in this superficial way focusing only on the obssession with the white supremacist patrirachy.
      Besides, do you an American filmmaker making a move about indigenous in Mexico would do from the same perspective as a Mexican one?

      • doaa25 says:

        By the way, I’m not generalizing but I’m basing my comments on this specific movie.

      • Reno Baptist says:

        Hello I think that the concepts are just wrong, “gay” is another construction and just because exist Queer theory is not a strong argument to use such an empty, simplistic concept. From the psychological and sociological point of view those ideas are just TOO old. And again we use ‘black’ as a concept, what exactly that mean? Is just another empty concept, very simplistic and old. About moving the concepts of the terms, well in fact in the most advanced theories they don’t uses those concepts any more, even Foucault attacks the ‘gay’ concept… all concepts depend of time and place. About the black director we assuming that for the simple fact is black he or she is going to go deeper into a sociological phenomenon and that is just an assumption. About the Mexican indigenous hypothetical case I’m totally agree. The simple fact I’m Mexican does not guarantees I know about Mexico, or I’m in a privilege position to talk about my country. Some times we are so self emerge in our own issues that we lost so many perspectives. In my middle school we read one book of History of Mexico from Brazil, because sometimes other places don’t have the shadows of the government to talk from a more critical posture. Some movies-documental about Mexican indigenous from Mexican creators, are just more racist and not well informed that other documentaries from Europe or USA, and other Mexican creators are phenomenal, but not for the nationality, but for the intelligence and critic sense. El laberinto de la soledad by the Mexican Octavio Paz is just one of the worst books about Mexican identity…

  4. Marie says:

    The only way to settle this is for a “black, lesbian, post-op transgendered, transvestite woman” to direct this movie. Almost all the bases would be covered and the chances that she would omit an important perspective would decrease.

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