10 Infamous Paris Is Burning Moments That Defined Queer Culture

Paris Is Burning
Raquel Willis

Image credit: Miramax

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Paris Is Burning, the landmark documentary film released in 1991. The film showcased the life of LGBTQ ballroom culture in New York City through the experiences of people of color in the late '80s and early '90s. In honor of the Paris Is Burning anniversary, here are the most important lessons we took away from the film.

1. No matter what category you walk in, you better work it!

Everyone has their part to play in the game of life, whether you’re a butch queen, a “realness girl” or a schoolboy, you better show up and let the world see what you’re working with.

2. Vogueing is an art, as well as a political statement.

The complex dance form draws on intricate hand movements, precise flexibility and even classic poses from fashion magazines (a la Vogue Magazine). Willi Ninja (shown above) was one of the premier voguers.

3. You don’t have to be biologically related to be 'family.'

Houses and “families,” which are collections of like-minded and affirming queer people, regularly adopt each other and create their own support systems. Often LGBTQ people lose the support of their families when they come out, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone. 

4. You can handle any hater if you know the difference between reading and throwing shade.

Ms. Dorian Corey gave us the ultimate crash course on reading and shade. The world is eternally thankful to her for keeping us from being so damn basic.

5. Self confidence is key.

Madame Pepper Labeija showed us that you can’t just say you’re the shit, you’ve got to know it with every fiber of your being.

6. No one will ever be as flawless as Venus Xtravaganza!

Petite trans girl Venus Xtravaganza was young, but she had the whole world in her hands. The beauty took her competitors to task and never once felt any remorse about it.

7. Serving face is how you make your enemies eat their words.

Octavia St. Laurent was a standout in the documentary and wanted to be a famous model. She reminded us that being fierce is the biggest payback you can give the world.

8. Life for trans women of color has been grisly for a long time.

The saddest moment of the entire film occurs when we learn about the tragic ending to Venus’ story. Her struggles illuminated the often difficult and dangerous lives of trans women of color.

9. Going from 0 to Butch Queen is nothing!

The film’s namesake, Paris Dupree, showed us that she’s more than a beat mug and a fierce walker. She could get down with the more masculine side of things when she wanted.

10. It’s important to go after your dreams, but don’t lose sight of enjoying the journey of life.

Dorian Corey served us many perfect quotable lines, but the last monologue gave us everything we needed to know about navigating this ferocious world.

After 25 years, the stars of Paris Is Burning can only be summed up in one word:

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