DVD Publication Date: February 22, 2012
On December 31, 2018, Hector Xtravaganza, Grandfather of the House of Xtravaganza (one of the early Latino drag families), died at the age of 60. Hector was featured in Paris is Burning and served as a consultant on the Ryan Murphy show about the New York gay ballroom scene of the 1980s. Pose.
Paris is Burning was filmed in the mid to late 1980s and chronicles the ball culture of New York City’s Black, Latino, Gay and Transgender community.
Paris is Burning follows the largely African-American Ball scene in New York City. Livingston became interested in the scene when she met a group of young gay men doing what they called “voguing” in Washington Square Park. Thinking the ball scene would make an interesting university project, the men suggested she contact the creator of the vogue moves, Will Ninja, who introduced her to the ball scene where contestants would have walk-off competitions in a variety of categories. Contestants would be scored on a number of categories including realness of drag whether it be boy drag (banjee — or passing as straight), girl drag or androgyny. In exploring the ball scene, Livingston connected with many individuals and highlighted their stories.
As a parent, this documentary tore at my soul. On the one hand, there’s the pageantry and over-the-top nature of the ball scene. A place to be accepted and celebrated for people who normally found themselves on the outside of the 1980s mainstream society. It was a celebration of acceptance, open hearts and love. In the ball setting of everything goes live, these were people who want to be who they are. They want love, happiness and the societal idea of normalcy. Venus Xtravaganza is a trans woman supporting herself as a call girl while dreaming that one day she’ll have the life she always wanted with people who love and accept her and see her as the woman she knows herself to be. Her longing for a life she will never have was heart-stirring. In my review of this movie I don’t wish to pontificate on gay rights, but my heart broke for Venus in her dreamy desire for a life she would never have (not to give anything away). What we’re left with is a clear, unvarnished look at a woman who is hurting no one in her longing for the life of a suburban lady who lunches. Her end is heartrending and tragic and I will admit to wishing that things had worked out differently for this compelling young person.
As a longtime viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race and follower of drag culture, watching Paris is Burning shined a light on how much the fore-bearers of the ball scene influence gay culture. The drag houses of the film still exist and thrive and the sense of community shines in the artists appearing on our screens weekly. Livingston showed the good and the bad — the nurturing families and the danger of daily survival. After I watched the movie, I searched Wikipedia for many of the key players. Many of them lived on their terms and, sadly, met an early end. Hector Xtravanganza became a key player in HIV/Aids activism.
Paris is Burning is engaging, enlightening, joyful, heartbreaking and informative. It is a must-see for humanity. Check it out today. I don’t know why I waited so long.
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