Paris Is Burning


Paris Is Burning (1991)



Critic Consensus: Paris Is Burning dives into '80s transgender subculture, with the understated camera allowing this world to flourish and the people to speak (and dance) for themselves.


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Movie Info

Jennie Livingston's documentary offers a behind-the-scene glimpse at the golden age of New York "Drag Balls" where rival fashion houses come together to celebrate, vogue and compete for bragging rights. Shot between 1985 and 1989, the narrative inter-cuts between individual stories that chronicle the experiences of the African-American and Latino, gay and transgender subculture in a time when the city was consumed by the ideals of wealth and glamour.

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Critic Reviews for Paris Is Burning

All Critics (14) | Top Critics (4)

One emerges from this film not only with a new vocabulary and a fresh way of viewing the straight world but with a bracing object lesson in understanding what society "role models" are all about.

Mar 31, 2016 | Full Review…

A film about resistance, passion and the determined reclamation of cultural space, Paris Is Burning has been tremendously influential, and is essential viewing for any student of the issues it concerns or of the documentary form.

May 3, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Livingston's film is a poignant look at black and Latinx gay and transgender communities, dissecting race and class, gender and sexuality.

Mar 4, 2017 | Rating: A | Full Review…

The directness and honesty of moment after moment strike back at peppily 'cheerful' white America's model-world. Blazes forth the importance, for a marginalized community, of adopting a fervid, fiery attitude all its own.

Sep 30, 2016 | Full Review…

Livingston is smart enough to realize that her subjects are best equipped to explain themselves.

Jul 10, 2009 | Rating: 62/100 | Full Review…

This landmark docu celebrates the resourcefulness of a group that's subcultural but not truly countercultural--its denizens long to become members of the society they imitate, operating at its periphery.

Oct 6, 2006 | Rating: A- | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Paris Is Burning

As a revealing (and sad) portrait of this subculture of the 1980s, the film documents the balls, the "houses," "voguing" and a "realness" competition that raises some fascinating questions about what real means (gay men even appear teaching women to behave like "real" women).

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


This documentary is a beautiful time capsule of the "ball" culture of late eighties drag culture. Not only does it show the performance aspect of these intricate and flawless drag shows, but also the AIDS fueled hysteria of the time, discrimination against gay people, and the fears and doubts of these one of a kind people. Since the film was released, many of the performers have died of AIDS related illnesses, and many of their trade secrets and views on life are only evident on the celluloid that this film was printed on. The subjects of this two year documentary are fascinating because of their candor and reverence for their craft. The film is both insightful in its depiction of ball culture and thoroughly entertaining for its depth and scope.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

A timeless, classic LBGT film. Quite bold for its time...which I guess means it isn't exactly "timeless"....still....

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer

This documentary focuses on the aspirations and culture of African American homosexuals and transsexuals. What is interesting about this subject is the depth of the culture. Filled with nuances and its own patois, gay and transsexual culture is remarkably complex, and the film exposes all. I can't say that I enjoyed the film because I've never been sitting in my apartment and thought, "Gee, I wonder what gay culture was like in the 80s." But that's not the film's fault. Overall, if you've ever been sitting in your apartment thinking, "Gee, I wonder what gay culture was like in the 80s," then this is the film for you.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

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