Paris is Burning was filmed to introduce the transgender ball culture of the African American and Latino community. The film was released after homosexuality had become a popular subject in the news with the AIDS crisis and after Madonna had released a new song “Vogue” about the voguing dance movement. The notion of homosexuality was no longer unheard of, but it was widely rejected conservatives, religious groups, and others. AIDS was even used as an argument for God’s disfavor against homosexuality. Paris is Burning is one of the first films to portray members of the LGBTQ community in a role other than for comedic relief.
Since the release of Paris is Burning, there have been many films on that include homosexuality for purposes other than humor, and some films have a member of the LGBTQ community as the main protagonist. One such film is Philadelphia (1994), where a gay attorney, named Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), with AIDS is discriminated against and fired for his condition. Other lawyers will not represent him in a discrimination case because of their own homophobia, and he is forced to begin working on the case in which he will represent himself. Eventually Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) realizes that Beckett is being treated unjustly by society and decides to help in with the case. Philadelphia puts out a similar point to Paris is Burning. Both films show that transgenders or gays are real people, not so different than you and me, and should be treated better. However, they accomplish this in very different ways.
Paris is Burning is different than other films on this subject because it is a documentary of the lives of drag queens in New York. It is important that it’s documentary because it gives an accurate depiction of what was going on and not some filmmaker’s interpretation of the actual events. Although there is not a well defined plot line that draws the viewers in to story, the fact that they are real people makes the documentary very impactful. The film simply presents the lives of its subjects and lets the audience make their own opinions. The documentary tends to be a fairly rare form of film, especially among films that are released theatrically. Recent documentaries that have gained great fame include Super Size Me (2004) and March of the Penguins (2005). Documentaries do not do so well in the box office because some people have preconceptions that they are boring, but these movies all have one thing in common. They present a certain point through actual footage of real events.