The Reel Review


This 1990 documentary about the black and Latino drag balls of the late 1980s New York should be required viewing for any fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, to see the origins of such concepts as chantay, shade, vogueing, throwing shade and realness.

The interviews with drag queens, nearly all of whom have long since died, are funny, thought provoking and heartbreaking, portraying a marginalized but proud segment of the population and its perception of white straight America.

This time capsule documentary will forever be one of the foundations in the lexicon of LGBTQ filmmaking.


• Venus Xtravaganza was found strangled to death on Christmas Day of 1988, during filming of and two years before the release of Paris is Burning.

• RuPaul’s first experience of a drag performance was seeing the legendary Crystal LaBeija, founder and original mother of the House of Labeija, lip-synching to Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” at Numbers nightclub in Atlanta in 1979. Said Ru, “I was convinced it was the real Donna Summer.”

• The Willi Ninja style of voguing is the most imitated style of voguing throughout the world, serving as the inspiration for Madonna’s 1990 music video, “Vogue.” Willi was the founder of the Legendary House of Ninja and was house mother until his death in 2006 at the age of 45.

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