The Athena Cinema, located at 20 S. Court St., will screen Paris is Burning on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The event is sponsored by Ohio University’s LGBT Center and University Programming Council (UPC).

Paris is Burning is a 1990 documentary directed by Jennie Livingston about 1980s “ball culture,”  an underground LGBT subculture which people "walk" for trophies, prizes and glory at events in New York City. The film showcases drag culture and looks at racism, classism, homophobia and the HIV and AIDS epidemic. 

“This is such a meaningful event for us and our community,” Jan Huebenthal, assistant director of the LGBT Center, said. “It was important to me for the center to address drag and the historical foundations of drag culture.”


What: Paris is Burning Screening

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Athena Cinema, 20 S. Court St.

Admission: Free

Huebenthal wanted an event to parallel to the Welcome Week drag show held two weekends ago.

“I really wanted to think about how to familiarize students with the history of drag,” Huebenthal said, “How it emerged from the context of poor, queer folk of color who used drag for community building, survival and joy.”

Paris is Burning is somewhat of a cult film. Though not a major motion picture, it was considered groundbreaking for the visibility it showcased when it was released.

“For a documentary, it got quite a high viewership,” he said. “I think it was the first time this particular group of people got center stage who seldom ever do, that was revolutionary in that sense.”

Paris is Burning also famously documents the origins of “vogueing,” a style of dance that was popularized by Madonna. 

In a modern context, the film raises the question of cultural appropriation. While showcasing people of color, it was not made by a person of color. Huebenthal noted this was a point of criticism for people such as Judith Butler and bell hooks, who uses the lowercase spelling of her name.   

“I think part of the legacy of Paris is Burning is the critique it got afterward,” Huebenthal said.

Although there are complex, personal and perhaps even political notions to performing drag, it also has a simpler side.

“On a different level, it’s about finding joy,” Huebenthal said. “It’s about the joy of imagining a life that’s not your own, playing with gender — the flamboyance — the idea that there’s joy in transgressing those kinds of societal norms.”

Miranda Gillilan, a senior studying media and social change, appreciates how drag is a way of self-expression.

“I like seeing people enjoy themselves,” Gillilan said. “It may be taboo to some people, but it makes me happy to see other people happy.” 

Morgan Coovert, a senior studying journalism, says she agrees with Gillilan. 

“(Drag) is fun,” Coovert said. “It’s very glitz and glam, which isn’t me at all, but I have an appreciation for it and the drama of it.”

Huebenthal will give a short introduction before the film, and following the film, he will also moderate a short panel discussion. More information about the screening can be found on the Athena Cinema’s website


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