So, I posted on my facebook page a few days ago the first part of the documentary, “Paris is Burning,” with the urging that it was a lot of fun to watch, and some deep insight into our current gay culture. The film, shot in 1987 and released in 1991 shows the deeply dysfuntional escapism of gay culture. There are notable moments in the film that did become part of our particular American pop culture (for instance, voguing).
However, after watching the film I wanted to do some research into what had happened to the primary characters the documentary surrounded itself with. Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Octavia Saint Laurent, and Willi Ninja (who did go on to work with Malcom McLaren and Madonna). I would kindly like to mention that each of them died.
Willi Ninja died of AIDS, after having revamped the ball circuit into a full fledge pop song, “Deep in Vogue.” Octavia St. Laurent died after a long battle with cancer. Pepper LaBeija, after having been dealt the blow of diabetes, had both feet amputated before dying of a heartattack. And Dorian Corey died of AIDS, leaving behind in her/his appartment the body of a man who had been shot in the head. Reason unknown, identity still pursued.
The documentary ends on a sad note. One of the darlings of the House of Extravaganza was found dead, mutilated and disfigured underneath a bridge. And the aformentioned deceased all died before their 45th birthdays. And why give such information such as this? Because it goes to show that an entire generation of creative, brilliant, and ambitiously minded people in this what we call our “gay” culture was silenced, not by the crazed disease they tried to terrify us with, but by the constant urge into escapism: to be someone other than who they were.
May they all rest in peace.