The 1991 award winning documentary Paris is Burning focuses on the community and culture created by renowned Drag Queens Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija and Dorian Corey living in New York City. It was recently announced that it will be re-released next February with an extra hour of content.
Paris is Burning has been a well kept secret within the Queer community since its debut at the Sundance Festival in 1991, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Over 20 years after this debut, the film is being re-released with an extra hour of content on the 25th of February in 2020. Society’s increasing progressiveness has seen a welcoming of Queer content, and mainstream media is capitalising on drag culture, such as RuPaul’s Drag Race. Its re-release is likely to receive a wider audience and perhaps amass a significant cult following.
The ground-breaking documentary, which was filmed over 7 years had an unprecedented focus on the lives of Drag Queens, who navigated their tumultuous experience of poverty, competition and a world that wasn’t ready to welcome them just yet. It illuminates the QTPOC (Queer and Transgender People of Colour) community’s experience of homophobia, racism and transphobia in New York. The documentary’s original release in the 90s meant it coincided with the Aids epidemic, and this would have impacted Paris is Burning’s reception. Hopefully its re-release in 2020 will give it the appraisal and following it deserves.
The documentary introduced the world to the QTPOC community, immortalising words like “shade,” “reading” and “fierce.” Its cast members Venus Xtravaganza, Octavia St. Laurant and Paris Dupree have had wildly successful careers since and have become leading figures of the community in the 21st century. However, its director, Jennie Livingston has been criticised for its exploitation of poor and maligned QTPOC people with rumours circling that the cast members were unpaid and unaware of its true purpose.
The Criterion Collection has given the documentary a 2K restoration, and a Blu-Ray release. The extra hour of footage features behind the scenes shots, a conversation filmed in 2005 between the original cast members Sol and Freddie Pendavis, director Livingston and filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris as well as audio commentary. It also has an excerpt from the cast’s appearance on the Joan River’s Show.
Its rerelease in 2020 will certainly gather the attention of the media and the LGBTQI community, perhaps hailing it as an authentic and honest depiction of being a queer and transgender person of colour.
Keep an eye out for it in February 2020.
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