My Househas an unavoidable predecessor in pop culture in Paris is Burning.
The legacy of Jennie Livingston’s 1991 film about the ballroom communityhas informed a generation of creatives as well as the general population.
“I‘m a huge fan of Paris is Burning,” says Elegance Bratton, the creator of My House, a10-episode docuseries about the currentNew York City ballroom scenepremiering tonight onVICELAND. Bratton tells INTO hefirst saw the film at age 13, a year after it came out. “Fan might not even be the right word, more like devotee. When I first saw it, it was the first time I had ever seen anyone who looked like me on screen. And the film gave me the language to understand what I was and I appreciated that.”
Paris inspired him in many ways, spurring him to later take his military-issued camera and equipment to a ball in New York City when he was stationed there as a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era Marine. It inspired him to eventually join the House of Labeija after marveling over Pepper Labeija’s grandeur, intelligence, and confidence through the screen. And after he learned more about the community and the controversial means of production for Paris Is Burning, it inspired him, in part, to create My House from a decidedly different vantage point.
“I am inspired by Livingston in knowing that I can do this and that this community is worthy of this type of attention and this level of work, because it’s grueling work,” Bratton says. “But on the flipside, I’m also critical of the cultural and political circumstances that enable a person like Jennie Livingston to be able to tell this story. And I appreciate the value of a person like me to tell this story, as an insider.”
In that way, the new series, which “follows the best voguers in the world as they prepare for battle,” is more akin to Ballroom Throwbacks, a nine-year-old popular YouTube channel with over 100,000 subscribers and 100 million views started by members of the community. But in addition to the action on the ballroom floor, the series pulls the curtains back on the family, organization and culture of the ballroom scene at large.
“I wanted to make something that elevates and shows these dancers the way I see them,” Bratton says of cast members like Tati 007, Alex Mugler, Jelani Mizrahi, and Precious Angel Ramirez. “I see them as major cultural contributions of our era. I don’t just see them as, like, kids who have a cute little thing that they do.”
And while Madonna’s “Vogue” is cited as a large contribution, that influence extends to culture today. Leiomy Maldonado, who makes an appearance in the show as a mentor to Tati, has seen her moves directly borrowed by Beyonce. In 2017, she even starred in her own Nike campaign, set to Precious’s voice. Alex Mugler’s house father Yusef Mugler is Rihanna’s go-to hair stylist. Dashaun Wesley Lanvin, an emcee in the debut episode, is also a working dancer and choreographer.
That’s not to mention Frank Ocean partnering with the House of Labeija for his 30th birthday party, RuPaul’s Drag Race integrating mock balls into competitions every season, FX’s upcoming show Pose centering on the ballroom community of the 1980s, and the pervasiveness of ballroom lingo amongst the masses. Ballroom is culture.
The show starts with an episode surrounding The Coldest Winter Ever, which gives visual homage to Sinia Ebony and Caesar Prodigy who founded both the event and Ballroom Throwbacks.
“It was important to me to highlight Ballroom Throwback’s contribution to our culture,” Bratton says, noting that a majority of the people who interact with the community but are not a part of the scene, do so through that platform’s footage. “It is a visual representation of the circumstantial facts: I’m standing on Caesar’s work. Caesar is the first person to ever do this. So there’s that part that’s important.”
But in addition to that, the ball serves as one of the first big balls of the years, cycling through a series of big buzz events much in the same way of red carpet season, ending with the Latex Ball. We watch Tati as a 007 (meaning she’s not a part of a house) seek to “reclaim her time” on the floor, while Alex Mugler revels in his newly deemed “legend status,” and even see soem of the main cast lose their categories. All the while, footage comes laced with educational tidbits, hearkening back to those infamous “reading” and “shade” lessons from Dorian Corey, explaining the five elements of vogue as well as terms like legend and icon.
This is ballroom in 2018. This is My House.
Watch the full first episode below or catch it tonight on VICELAND.