Clear the floor for this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience. And, girl, you better work it! This week we strap on our best designer outfit (that was probably stolen) and dive deep into the world of 1980s ball culture in the Black, Latino, gay, and transgender community in New York City. Released in 1990, this documentary film has received something of a cult following over the past 25 years. Bringing Voguing to the public consciousness a year before Madonna would make the dance mainstream and introducing words and phrases that the gay community has been using for years that have suddenly entered the lexicon of pop culture slang. All those people throwing shade, having a kiki, and bringing <insert description> realness have the women from these Drag Houses (LaBeija, Extravaganza, Ninja) to thank.
But the film isn't all glitzy over-the-top fashion, expertly timed reads, and super model-inspired body contortions. At the heart of the film is a group of people that felt marginalized and ignored in society coming together and celebrating what makes them unique. I love that although there are different categories and competitions at the ball (Executive Realness! Dynasty! Banji Girl!) virtually everyone goes home with a trophy. Some might have larger trophies or, you know, actually be named the 1st prize winner - but there aren't really losers, only smaller sized trophies.
And ultimately the balls aren't about being "legendary" or living an extravaganza lifestyle. They are about acceptance and the communal celebration of individuals forming a group that make them feel like you're not alone. So many of the young people that compete in the balls come from broken homes, longing for something better (it's a little heartbreaking to hear so many of them talk about their aspirations to be rich and famous). Their blood families usually disown them because of who they are and they end up forming new families - ones that love and nurture them. Which is why I chose for my pick this week a shot of that familial bond that happens between the young competitors. Stripped of the costumes, away from the spotlight of the ball, they are just young boys that care for one another as deeply as if they are family - because that's what they are:
But I'll let Miss Dorian Corey have the last word, since she always knows what to say and I do NOT need her reading me:
"A house. Let's see if we can put it down sharply. They're families. You can say that. They're families... for a lot of children who don't have families. But this is a new meaning of family.
The hippies had families and no one thought nothing about it. It wasn't a question of a man and a woman and children, which we grew up knowing as a family. It's a question of a group of human beings in a mutual bond."