‘Paris Is Burning’ Returning to Theaters Brings Us into the Future

‘Paris Is Burning’ Returning to Theaters Brings Us into the Future

Writer Willow Maclay illustrates the problems with access in her conversation with writer Caden Gardner, noting, “The thing about art about outsiders and minority groups is that it usually ends up out of our reach, and with the death of the video store and homogenization of streaming options with Netflix’s near monopoly it gets even dicier, unless you’re torrenting your own history.” The structural and systemic reasons for this are disheartening, from underfunding to a supposed logic that prioritizes box office over potential influence. And the end result means far too few ways to access pieces of culture so pivotal to our shared history.

The strange thing about even writing about “the access problem” with this film, or any other outsider or independent art, is that we live in the age of the Internet, where old, weird foreign movies are easily found on any number of tube sites (though perhaps through less than legal means). People go about finding alternative ways of accessing this work online via torrenting, too. But these forms of access make it harder to create community, which can enact real, tangible change.

Jennie Livingston

No matter how far representation gets in pop culture for queer people, it is crucial that a sense of community exists for the rejected and marginalized. Movies have the power to create bonds between people, but in a paradoxical cultural and political climate where Pose can get renewed for a second season but the safety of trans women is still in threat, the re-release of Paris Is Burning as a community-centered project is the film’s most applicable lesson. Rather than have the film exist randomly in a vacuum on a streaming site, we can provide opportunity for the interrogation of representation, collaboration, exploitation, documentary ethics, and the successes and failures in the modern LGBTQ rights movement’s handling of its trans siblings.

All film has the dormant power to bring people together to share an experience, but Paris Is Burning and other queer films like it struck a nerve in me even before I myself came to identify as queer. There was a limitlessness, an explosive beauty and a rejection of what could be considered good taste or convention. History could be both documented and turned on its head to reveal new kinds of lives and ways of being. Paris is one in a litany of films that sparked my obsession with interrogating and exploring what queerness could be on screen—and how that reflection of ourselves could expand our own sense of identity, and let us conceive of what it meant to live in the world as an “other” and reclaim that space both in the real world and in the cinema.

There is a hope, one as utopic as the spaces of joy and freedom featured in Paris Is Burning, that institutions like libraries and maybe even schools will invest in making such a film, and other queer art, more available to people. That a revival will encourage educators, activists, and everyday people to even go beyond this one film and share the work of black gay filmmaker Marlon Riggs (Tongues Untied) and lesbian filmmaking pioneer Barbara Hammer (Nitrate Kisses) and others. My hope is that the re-release will encourage curiosity beyond the limits of what one movie theater in New York or a major streaming service has to offer. This year’s Pride Month coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and, in New York, WorldPride. It’s the perfect opportunity to let the reflections of ourselves from the past help shape the queer future.

Source : Kyle Turner Link

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