Walk! — a new mini-documentary by filmmaker Nicolas Jenkins — explores 30 years of voguing history in New York in 11 minutes, with an eye towards what voguing was like back in the day and what it’s like now. The documentary portrait includes interviews with legends and personalities of the contemporary voguing scene who offer their take on what voguing is about and how the dancing and music have changed. What you really want to see is all of the excellent dancing and fabulous looks, because dancing and being fabulous, when you’re black or brown and queer, is a way to assert yourself in a society that constantly tells you that you don’t belong.
Ever since Jenny Livingston’s documentary Paris Is Burning dropped in 1990 voguing has been used by pop stars for commercial gain and by queer/critical theorists to explain the innerworkings of gender, race, class and performance. Paris Is Burning, as rich as it is, has now become a central text used to explain brownness and queerness to white students at elite liberal arts colleges. That’s fine! But the issue I have with this is that voguing is always presented as a “fad,” something that “happened” in 1990 and which Paris Is Burning explores with utter perfection (sarcasm!), not as the sickening, global culture that is still pummelling catwalks. Every time a new singer or whatever discovers voguing, here come the headlines that scream, “voguing is BACK!” Voguing is back? But, like, where did it go? As far as I know it has never gone anywhere, as the 30 years of footage from Walk! makes clear. The only thing that changes is who’s paying attention.