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Gay Iconography: Honoring Drag Roots In ‘Paris Is Burning’


As we cross the halfway mark on this season of RuPaul's Drag Race, the popular reality competition (1 million Facebook Likes, and growing) continues to be one of the primary drivers of a reinvigorated interest in drag culture and slang. However, long before Mother Ru was tellings us to “sissy that walk,” Venus Xtravaganza was asking if we were “going through it” in the iconic 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning.

While the film introduced America to lots of drag vernacular -- launching “reading,” “realness” and “voguing” into the cultural consciousness -- it also perfectly encapsulated a specific moment in time. Filmed in mid-to-late ‘80s, director Jennie Livingston’s documentary sheds light on the faces of New York ball culture at its peak, including figures like Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija and Dorian Corey. It is a portrait of a segment of the LGBT community before the height of its struggle with AIDS. The film also tackles issues of race, class and gender.

Take a look back with some of our favorite clips celebrating Paris Is Burning,

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Grandfather of Vogue, Willi Ninja, Dies at 45

NinjaTributes poured out across the blogosphere over the weekend to Willi Ninja, a legendary figure in the New York dance scene who was instrumental in lifting the underground Black and Latino vogue balls into the public's consciousness. Ninja starred in Jennie Livingston's documentary Paris is Burning, and Malcolm McLaren and Madonna later took Ninja's moves to the mainstream.

Ninja told The Washington Post in 1991 that the vogueing phenomenon was as much an expression of sexuality as it was a dance form: "I've been voguing for 11 years, but I didn't have an inkling of it until I started. It was very underground. You basically didn't even see the dance in mainstream clubs, because once people figured out where it came from, then they automatically assumed that if you're doing this dance, then you must be. And the majority of kids at that time didn't want to come out. I was in the closet then, but I was like, 'Hey, this is great, this is a new dance form.' And once I had it down pat, I was doing it everywhere."

Willi Ninja had been hospitalized since July for complications from AIDS. He died on Saturday at 45.

Willi Ninja, RIP [keith boykin]
Willi Ninja [payor]
RIP Willi Ninja [clay cane]
Killer Pose [the stranger blog]


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