“Paris Is Burning”: The Prequel To “Pose” That Never Aired

FX’s hit show Pose is a fictional show adored by Netflix and cable subscribers alike, but do you know about its relation to the iconic 1991 documentary, Paris is Burning? 

Pose was my favorite quarantine show. Despite being recommended to it consistently since its premiere in 2018, I never got around to watching. Always “too busy” and “too distracted” by the buzz of daily life, T.V. was something that I didn’t make much time for before life came to a grinding halt. Despite my laissez-faire, however, slightly snobbish attitude toward Netflix pre-pandemic, I fully embraced its integration into my daily routine in the past year. Out of all the binge-sessions I’ve endured, Pose remains my favorite. Refreshing in its vibrant 80s culture content, meaningful plot line and fully aware lens of P.O.C. LGBTQ+ folks living through the AIDS epidemic in New York City, Pose serves in every way.

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Angel Evangelista vogues in the ballroom. Photo by @poseonfx on Instagram

My obsession spiraled into a series of Google searches, surfing the internet for the bio of every cast member and fun fact about the show’s origins. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the its ties to the iconic documentary, Paris is Burning (1991.) Although I had heard the title before, no doubt slung about in some conversation regarding film cult classics, I was lost as to its storyline. Controversially, it is available for free on YouTube, if you don’t mind the Spanish subtitles scrawled across the bottom of the screen. In only the first few scenes, I was shocked to discover the similarities between the documentary and the show. “Inspired” felt like an understatement, this was for all intents and purposes just an extension of Pose, a prequel, sequel, spin-off with shockingly similar character arches, every aspect of Pose was directly taken from this documentary. Despite all its similarities, Paris is Burning possesses a quality to it that although Pose tried emulating (and succeeded considering the circumstances,) could never fully reach. Paris is Burning was real, the faces on the screen that vogued in the ballrooms, did their drag glam in the mirror, and divulged their deepest traumas, all did so authentically, everything was real.

Certain aspects of the show that I viewed as fun before, lingo like “realness,” “passing,” “shading,” and “reading,” were revealed to be phrases of the oppressed born from trauma of a life exiled.

“To be able to blend, that’s what realness is. If you can pass the untrained eye or even the trained eye and not give away the fact that you’re gay – that’s when it’s realness,” explains Dorian Corey.

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Elektra Abundance-Evangelista serves for the Pose promo shoot. Photo by @poseonfx on Instagram

The documentary depicts individuals so reminiscent of the characters of Pose, you can almost pair them up. Even the plot lines reflect the real horrors some of the cast endured. Venus Xtravaganza’s tragic death by strangulation is reflected by that of Candy’s similar death in the show. House mother, Elektra Evangelista’s accidental murder of one of her clients leads her to lock his lifeless corpse in a chest, tucked away in her closet, exactly follows the remains found in real-life Dorian Corey’s closet after her death.

The reality of Paris is Burning brings a whole other level of humanity to the phenomena of ball culture and acts as an important reminder of the trauma that queer and or people of color have been experiencing for centuries, that openly persisted not long ago, and continues to this day. The only reassurance I found while watching was the knowledge that one day their culture would find its way into the mainstream. Pose just finished airing its third and final season, and its existence as an LGBTQ+ show that features trans and gay people of color (as actors and characters) is not alone either. One day, Dorian Corey wouldn’t have to explain what shading or reading meant to the general public, one day people like Octavia St. Laurent and Venus Xtravaganza could have successful careers in the modeling industry, one day Freddie Pendavis wouldn’t have to walk the category of executive realness to experience the life of a successful businessman, he could just be one. Upon finishing the documentary, and rewatching Pose in lieu of Pride Month, I have realized that Pose is the whole story that Paris is Burning never got to tell.

Pose co-Creator/Executive Producer, Steven Canals, revealed this in his interview with TV Line,

“Especially in the case of queer or trans people, we never get to lean all the way into our joys. Our stories are always rooted in our traumas. In the case of Pose, we wanted to shift the lens and show that we are also joyful, that we’re not always surviving, that we also can be thriving.”

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A still from the documentary, Paris is Burning. Photo by jose on Flickr

Although Pose is and always will be a work of fiction, it’s storyline and mere presence in the mainstream media realize a vision that those who lived the inspiration in Paris is Burning could only dream of. Remember their pain, their joy, and their persistence to live authentically in a world not yet ready for the pure love that the ballroom community encompassed the next time you listen to Madonna’s “Vogue,” watch Pose, or use “shade” in your Instagram caption.

Delaney Beaudoin

Content Creator & FB Manager

Having grown up in a non-traditional family of intersecting identities, Delaney takes pride in her blank-slate, open-minded perception of the world. Her interests in writing, politics, and travel converge perfectly to fuel her intense passion for journalism and the pursuit of truth in modern media. Delaney values her tendency towards impulsivity and loves the unprecedented circumstances that come with traveling.

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