The Christian Film and Television Commission, an Atlanta-based media watchdog organization, is calling for "all moral Americans" to boycott "Paris Is Burning," a documentary look at the Harlem transvestite scene and the drag-ball "voguing" competitions in which blacks and Latinos mimic the preening of fashion models.
The making of the film was partially funded by a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
"Paris Is Burning," which has been playing in New York for five months, won the 1990 Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. award for best documentary and also won this year's grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It is being distributed by the Prestige Films division of Miramax Films and is set to open in 20 cities, including Los Angeles, on Friday.
The movie, directed by Jennie Livingston, has been booked at the AMC Century 14 theater in Century City and the GCC Beverly Connection in Beverly Hills.
The Christian Commission called the film "an unbelievably sordid and despicably evil documentary" and asks that people boycott the film and write President Bush, their congressman and senators to protest the partial funding of the film with tax dollars. The organization even offers to send a "personalized letter" to Bush denouncing the film--for a $5 charge.
In addition to the NEA grant, "Paris Is Burning" received funding from several other sources including the New York Council on the Arts, the Foundation for the Arts, the Paul Robeson Fund and BBC Television.
"The producers of 'Paris Is Burning' could easily have funded their movie in the homosexual or artistic communities without tax dollars from people opposed to this type of blatant propaganda," wrote commission Chairman Theodore Baehr in the organization's publication Movieguide: A Biblical Guide to Movies and Entertainment.
Movieguide editor Bonnie Harvey described the film as "revolting. . . . The film promotes a despicable lifestyle that God abhors."
Jonathan Marder, a spokesman for the film, said that he was surprised to learn of the boycott. "We think this movie is wonderful," Marder said. "We feel that it is a powerful blow to racism and homophobia everywhere. We believe that it stands for the best that the NEA has funded in the arts."
"Miramax Films stands behind 'Paris Is Burning' 100%," said a statement from Harvey and Bob Weinstein, co-chairmen of Miramax Films. "We will take legal action against any organization which tries to interfere with any screening or opening of this film. This is clearly an infringement of our free speech and First Amendment rights which 'Paris Is Burning' staunchly defends.
"We were warned there might be controversy from religious groups in reaction to 'Paris' and another of our films, 'The Pope Must Die,' a religious comedy. We will continue with our plans to open both films regardless of the protests of any group."