“Paris is Burning” and the Social Determinants of Health

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Social Justice & The Arts

When it comes to the film Paris is Burning, I’m divided. I saw the film about drag ball culture in Harlem shortly after its release in 1991. As a young gay man grappling with identity, the film was an affirmation in a cultural desert. Never had I seen effeminacy depicted so fearless and strong. I was thoroughly seduced by the celluloid spectacle.

Revisiting the film today, I’m struck by how much eluded me from “beyond the frame.” (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/18/style/paris-has-burned.html?pagewanted=4&src=pm.) In particular, the troubling issue of a white, Yale-educated individual documenting the lives of mainly black and Latino, poverty stricken characters – with no artistic intent to rectify the injustice.  Filmmaker Jennie Livingston revealed a passivity to these dynamics when she said, “If [the documentary subjects] wanted to make a film about themselves, they would not be able….I wish that weren’t so, but that’s the way society is structured.” Oh…

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