Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, Paris is Burning chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the various ethnicities, including African American, Latino gay and transgender community involved in it. Many consider Paris Is Burning to be an invaluable documentary film of the end of the "Golden Age" of New York City drag balls, as well as a thoughtful exploration of race, class, and gender in America.
The film explores the elaborately-structured Ball competitions in which contestants, adhering to a very specific category or theme, must "walk" (much like a fashion model's runway) and subsequently be judged on criteria including the "realness" of their drag, the beauty of their clothing and their dancing ability.
Most of the documentary film alternates between footage of balls and interviews with prominent members of the scene, including Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Anji Xtravaganza, and Willi Ninja. Many of the contestants vying for trophies are representatives of "Houses" (in the fashion sense, such as "House of Chanel") that serve as intentional families, social groups, and performance teams. Houses and ball contestants who consistently won in their walks eventually earned a "legendary" status.