LAYERS OF REALITY

Curated by Letice Braun

 
Whether you love it or hate it, there's no denying that reality television has a firm grasp over popular culture, perhaps more so than any other art form. Besides being entertaining, reality television opens doors to unfamiliar subjects and lifestyles. The deeper you dive into reality shows, the more layers you discover. ↓
 

RUPAUL DRAG RACE by Nick Murray
 
Take RUPAUL DRAG RACE for example. A reality competition TV series about the art of transformation presented by iconic 1990's drag queen RuPaul. Beyond the glitz and glamor, this series is about acceptance, inclusivity and representation. RUPAUL DRAG RACE is more than entertainment, it opens a gate that stimulates our curiosity to delve further into the Ballroom culture. On the Rupaul Drag Race Youtube channel you can find interesting short series that give a more elaborate insight in this community. My personal favorite was the OUT OF THE CLOSET mini series on youtube.

 

PARIS IS BURNING by Jennie Livingston

Before there was RUPAUL DRAG RACE, there was PARIS IS BURNING. A documentary that was largely responsible for bringing the language of the Ballroom community to culture at large. Shot between 1985 and 1989 this documentary offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the golden age of New York Drag Balls. Although this documentary was poorly received by the community itself, it is used as an important reference for works that followed after. 

 

HOW DO I LOOK  by Wolfgang Busch
 
The documentary HOW DO I LOOK is a response to the way PARIS IS BURNING was received by the ball community. Filmed over a period of 10 years, the documentary was seen as a project to empower the people of the ballroom community. HOW DO I LOOK focused on the members of the National Ball community who have taken their talents outside the Ball scene.   

 


VOGUE  by Madonna
 
Inspired by vogue dancers and choreographers from the ballroom scene, Madonna released the song VOGUE in 1990. Critically, VOGUE has been met with appreciation ever since its release. The ballroom scene felt it to be an acknowledgement of their art and as a result, in 1990, the community gained incredible popularity. But after a while, the allure of the song faded away and so did the popularity of Vogue and Ballroom. 

 

POSE by Janet Mock & Ryan Murphy 
 
After the launch of RUPAUL DRAG RACE in 2009 ballroom was back in vogue again and has been ever since. In 2019, however, the Netflix series POSEbroke new ground for LGBTQ and Ballroom storytelling.

Working with the biggest transgender cast in television history, the stories told about the ballroom community in previous documentaries were reexamined and further elaborated. Based on New York in the 80’s, the makers aimed to tell a more complete story about the essence of this community, the trans people of color and the stigmatization of HIV at the time. Mildly dramatized, the characters stories remain rooted and are fully real.  

 

'I'm a conduit between viewers and a community that wasn't in film at the time' 

- Jennie Livingston

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