Paris Dupree’s death in August may have seemed like the end of an era, but her legacy endures. The founding mother of the House of Dupree, who helped provide a sense of community and family for disenfranchised urban gay people in the drag balls of Harlem, was immortalized in the documentary Paris Is Burning. More than two decades since its release, Jennie Livingston’s film is still not only encouraging young LGBT kids to express themselves but inspiring a number of contemporary filmmakers as well.
Paris’s obvious progeny is Leave It on the Floor, director Sheldon Larry’s narrative film about Los Angeles’s drag ball culture. It has been a sold-out hit in festivals across the country, and there’s talk of turning it into a stage musical. Most gratifying for Larry, however, is the seal of approval from Livingston, who reportedly told him she loved his film after catching a recent screening.
The ladies also get their due in Leilah Weinraub’s Shakedown, which is set in a black lesbian strip club in Los Angeles. What began as a chronicle of the club’s by-women, for-women performances quickly evolved into something more personal and meditative for Weinraub, who has spent eight years on a project some have dubbed the lesbian Paris Is Burning. Weinraub expects her film to be released early in 2012.
Most poignant is definitely The Sons of Tennessee Williams (which opened in select theaters in October), chronicling the rise of Mardi Gras drag balls against the turbulent backdrop of the civil rights era in New Orleans. Filmmaker Tim Wolff weaves a compelling narrative from often-heartbreaking interviews with the LGBT pioneers (the titular sons), glorious archival footage, and more recent clips from the 2008 anniversary ball.
Watch a trailer for Leave It on the Floor below. Then see photos from The Sons of Tennessee Williams and the trailer on the following pages.
At the third Armeinius Ball in 1972, gay civil rights pioneer Albert Carey fulfills the Opera Ball theme with his costume, "The Storm" from the opera L' Africane.
Krewe of Petronius member Bill McCarthy and his costume, "Petit Fors," parade at the Armeinius 40th anniversary ball in 2008.
Mike Moreau, left, and Jimmy Keyes on Mardi Gras Day in 1963.