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Restored print of ’90 classic ‘Paris is Burning’ opens this weekend in D.C.

Gay classic and ballroom culture lives on via current series ‘Pose’

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vogue, ballroom, gay news, Paris is Burning, Washington Blade
Voguer, Brooklyn ball, 1986. (Jennie Livingston, courtesy of Janus Films)

Take away its time capsule footage of gritty 1980s New York City, and the creative expressions and personal challenges charted in “Paris is Burning” seem, in ways both inspiring and sobering, utterly contemporary.

Seven years in the making, Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary introduced New York’s African-American and Latinx Harlem ball culture to a global audience. Between origin stories (“shade came from reading”) and the definition of a House (“a gay street gang”), “Paris is Burning” follows voguers, drag queens and trans women on their quest for respect and recognition — not just in the form of towering trophies awarded in categories like “Town and Country” and “Executive Realness,” but also from a society, the film’s current press notes, “rampant with homophobia and transphobia, racism, AIDS and poverty.”

Now, nearly 30 years later, a digitally restored version of the film is getting a national roll-out, opening here today (Friday, Aug. 2), at Landmark’s E Street Cinema (555 11th St., N.W.). Show times at landmarktheatres.com

Its June run at New York’s Film Forum was a fitting full-circle journey.

Karen Cooper, director of the nonprofit indie and foreign art film mecca, booked “Paris is Burning” for its original American theatrical premiere, after screening it at an independent film market in New York.

“Audience reception was tremendous,” Cooper recalls, of the 1990 run. “The first show (afternoon!), on a Wednesday, sold 89 tickets. The reviews were very strong. Vincent Canby, in the New York Times, was particularly enthusiastic and the Times had tremendous clout in those days.”

This time around, audience and critical reception “have both been positive,” Cooper says. “The cultural climate has done a huge shift, in that LGBTQ people are no longer invisible. I think the film is not shocking in the way it may have been nearly 30 years ago, but neither is Fellini or Pasolini and they remain great filmmakers.”

Joined by cast members Freddie Pendavis and Sol Pendavis, “Paris” director Livingston was on hand at a June 15 Film Forum screening, for a conversation moderated by artist and filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris. Two days later, Jevon Martin introduced a Film Forum screening, “in hopes that they (contemporary audiences) would tie into the fact that the LGBTQ community is still homeless now, just as it was back then.”

The same community needs are present today, notes Martin, who serves as executive director of Princess Janae Place, an organization he founded in 2015 to honor its late namesake by “educating the LGBTQ community on their rights to housing and addressing the needs of the LGBTQ community, with emphasis on TGNC (transgender/gender non-conforming) people of color.”

Martin, who knew many of those featured in “Paris,” served in New York City as father of the House of Khan, then father in the House of Legacy. Currently, Martin contributes to the ballroom scene as “the creator of the transman realness category.”

Martin has “been a part of ballroom since the late ’90s, helping others and spectating. I walked my first butch realness category at Paris is Burning ball, at the Minisink Townhouse in Harlem, when my auntie Paris (Dupree) was alive.”

Of Dupree, one of those featured in the film, Martin recalls her as “a butch queen. She was a showgirl and a straightforward person. Paris didn’t take no shit from anyone, and you didn’t mess with Paris. Everyone knew that if you did, you would get knocked.” (“That’s gay slang for ‘beat up,’” Martin says.)

Dorian Corey, another from the film, “was also my auntie, a showgirl and seamstress,” Martin says, calling her “elegant, beautiful, kindhearted and stern. She wouldn’t hold her tongue either. What you saw was what you got. She never sugar-coated anything.”

Corey, Martin recalls, “sewed clothes for a lot of people, and everything she wore was designed by her. Nobody messed with her, either. It just so happens that when she passed away, her apartment on 140th Street was left to her close friend and some guys came by to get some clothes for Halloween. They found the mummified body of a man in a garment bag in the closet, with a bullet hole in his head.”

That scenario may well play itself out on the small screen, as Martin says the Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy-created FX series “Pose” (set in the same era as Livingston’s “Paris”) has woven the documentary’s people and events into its own plot.

“But told in a unique way,” he says. “By that, I mean the storylines of the characters are similar, but the details are changed, so as not to be the same.”

Martin cites, as one example, the character of Angel Evangelista (played by Indya Moore), whose experience on the show is reminiscent of Tracey “Africa” Norman, “a transwoman and a model. Nobody knew she was transgender. She was later found out.”

Martin, who was cast as a ballroom judge in two episodes and can be seen in the background in other ballroom scenes, says, “We are still filming. So hey, you never know what other areas I might be cast in. Plus, season three has been announced.”

The “Paris is Burning” effect, Martin says, “is very positive. The film is our history. These are the people that were the limelight of that era. Some are still alive today to tell their stories. Those that have passed on have left their legacy to pave the way for the new kids.”

A 1991 poster shoot for ‘Paris is Burning.’ (Photo courtesy Janus Films)

From the runway on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to each new episode of “Pose,” Martin notes the ballroom scene “has been brought to mainstream,” showcasing “the glitz and glam of our community. Yet there is still much work to do to make sure we are all safe from discrimination and physical abuse.”

One thing that still bothers Martin, as stated in comments prior to June 30’s New York Pride March, “is that Pride was built on the backs of transwomen of color, and that’s been whitewashed and erased. The existence of the Pride March has been turned into a corporate parade. Year after year, it’s being diluted from Stonewall being a riot.”

Like those in “Paris is Burning,” Martin says, contemporary trans and gender-nonconforming people of color “want visibility. We want people to know why we are celebrating and not lose the true meaning behind Pride.”

Pepper Labeija after walking ‘Executive Realness.’ (Jennie Livingston, courtesy Janus Films)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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