Check it Out!: While You Wait for the Next Episode of Pose

Pose is an American drama television series co-created by Ryan Murphy, known for creating/co-creating successful series such as Nip/Tuck, Glee, and American Horror Story among others. Equal parts heady, artistic opulence and deliciously soapy drama, Pose takes place during the 1980’s—a juxtaposition of the Trump style faux-luxury, junk-bonds, get-rich-quick-schemes, and rampant consumerism of Uptown New York and of the Downtown social and artistic scene where marginalized ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities thrive underground.

Pose revolves mostly around and takes place in the burgeoning ball culture of the time. Ball culture describes an LGBT subculture in the US in which people walk or compete for trophies and prizes at events known as balls. Some who walk also dance. Others compete in drag categories designed to emulate other genders and social classes. Most participants in ball culture belong to groups known as houses.

If you’ve zipped through the entire first season of Pose and found yourself thirsty for more and curious about ball culture and the history of vogue walking, check out the CALS video collection.

First and foremost, among ball culture documentaries, is the mother of all ball culture documentaries: Paris Is Burning (1990). This documentary parts the curtain and allows you to observe a world that few outside the scene are aware of. Filmed while Madonna was introducing vogue dancing to white, middle-class Americans, Paris Is Burning alternates between footage of balls and interviews with prominent participants in the scene, explaining the history, politics, social aspects, jargon, and art of ball culture. Also, taking place during the same period and in the same setting as Pose, Paris Is Burning features the true-life icons and legendary mothers of houses upon which the characters of Pose are based. Paris Is Burning is absolutely essential viewing for anyone interested in the history of ball and American LGBT culture and for gaining context for viewing Pose.

A more recent film that documents the same social groups as Paris Is Burning, Kiki (2016) concentrates on the social pressures and everyday struggles of a small group of LGBTQ youths of color and how they unite to form safe gathering spaces. Though Kiki is more contemporary than Paris Is Burning, it shows that the balls still fill a need for these young people that is not filled anywhere else. There is less voguing than you might expect (or want) and more focus on advocacy and political activism.

The documentary How Do I Look (2006) falls somewhere between Paris Is Burning and Kiki in scope. It was filmed over a ten-year period in both the Harlem and the Philadelphia ball scenes a few years after Paris Is Burning was filmed, and a lot of familiar faces and names are featured. How Do I Look focuses a bit more on the history of balls, which go as far back as the 1920’s and have roots in the Harlem Renaissance. The film also deals more directly with the prejudice that communities involved with ball culture face. As voguing legend Willi Ninja says in a New York Times article, “If Madonna does voguing, it’s O.K.…But when the ball children dance, even now, people say, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of crazy queens throwing themselves on the floor.’” (2005)

If you’ve had enough of the documentaries and are thirsty for ballroom drama, there are a couple of movies in the CALS collection for you.

Leave it on the Floor (2011), set in the ballroom world originally memorialized by Paris Is Burning, stars Ephraim Sykes, Andre Myers, Phillip Evelyn, and Barbie-Q. The film is an original musical that takes place in the Los Angeles scene and stresses the importance of having a family even if it is one you yourself must create.

Saturday Church (2017) follows a 14-year-old boy who struggles with gender identity and religion and who begins to use fantasy to escape his inner-city life and find his passion. Pose‘s own Blanca, MJ Rodriguez, is among the stars featured in this film.

So, there you have it—several offerings at CALS that will tide you over until the next episode of Pose comes out. Happy viewing!