By: Joseph Castel
Anyone who watched producer Ryan Murphy’s series, Pose, last year, will remember fashion diva Billy Porter’s character, Pray Tell, always announcing the start of the show with his signature line, “The Category is . . .” Of course, this line was lifted directly from the 1990, iconic documentary, Paris is Burning, where the MC introduces the various dance categories before the start of each Ball – the New York City voguing Balls of the 1980s. Sorry, millennials, voguing was not invented by Madonna. The Material Girl did what academics call, appropriation — a fancy word for ripping off another culture for one’s personal and profitable benefit (I think I just read Madonna some shade).
In 2018, Ryan Murphy (Glee, Feud) drew inspiration from the documentary Paris is Burning for his FX series about the African American LGBTQ subcultural dance craze. Thankfully, Murphy paid Paris is Burning’s director, Jeannie Livingston a consultant fee to work on the series because he lifted quite a few characters, plotlines and scenes straight out of the legendary documentary.
A new six part docu-web series now takes an intimate look at the current trans/drag voguing phenomenon in Mexico’s capitol. Revry, the world’s first LGBTQ streaming platform, has acquired the rights to “The Category is . . . Mexico City,” from creators Ocean Vashti Jude and Lauren E. Zubia Calsada.
Voguing in Mexico City took off a few years ago, prior to Murphy’s revisit of it on television. Unfortunately, the series doesn’t explain why voguing, 30 years later, has become such an obsession.
The camera goes into the House of Mamis, run by House Mother Mendoza, whose dance protégés, all call her, what else? “Mother.” Mother Mendoza has rescued many discarded children from the streets of Mexico. “If I had to define her (Mother) it would be security,” claims one of the resident dancers. One dancer found refuge in the Mamis House after being bullied relentlessly by those she thought were her friends.
The voguers are unapologetic, and downright flagrant about who they are. “I want all of you to know that drag has a voice,” raps Negragconda, a blonde punk dragster who struts her reptilian tattooed body across the dance floor. “Negraconda es en la casa, and she’s gonna conquer la raza.” She continues rapping to the raucous cheers and applause of the gender-bending audience. Clearly, there is strength in numbers. One House member explains that “In vogue, you have to have a story for every movement, so it can be a performance, if not, you’re only doing steps.”
The camera work on the dancers is very fluid, beautiful, even if the dancers are not, well, all that skilled in their movements. After all, most of them have had no professional training.
What’s refreshing about this series is that these dancers aren’t catty or competitive as in Paris, which is a good thing. In Paris and Pose, there is a whole subculture of shade and reading, in which everyday putdowns are an art form, on and off the dance floor.
Much of the insults in Pose are petty, repetitive and self-destructive. The members in the House of Mamis are the opposite of that. And their leader, Mother Mendoza is the one who sets the harmonious tone. Mama Mendoza’s philosophy? “If we create a real and sincere community, we all will advance, we don’t have to go pulling each other down,” stresses Mendoza. This is the House mantra.
The dancers look out for each other. They strive for serenity, security and comfort. At least that’s what the viewer is shown. Who knows what really happens when the camera’s turned off. They could all bitch slap each other, for all I know.
The lack of “fake” reality TV drama in this queer docuseries is actually a relief. These trans and gender fluid dancers have found a real sanctuary within a fairly homophobic city, where they feel their very lives are threatened for just being themselves.
This is where the creators should have stepped in and provided some statistics on trans murders, and hate crimes in Mexico City, even if it’s with subtitles. The viewer would like to know, how homophobic is Mexico City? How safe is it?
Despite the lack of pertinent information on discrimination, suicide, and murder rates on the LGBTQ community, the series is still very enjoyable and informative to watch. And like the African Americans in New York who clung to each other for security and comfort in the 1980s vogue scene, these young Mexican dancers have also found community and confidence in striking a pose.
View Revry’s teaser link for “The Category is . . . Mexico City” at: https://vimeo.com/380628799/bfb330a39b