June-July 2022 - PROFILES: The House of LaBeija premieres at Tribeca Film Festival
When Director Fredgy Noël decided to make the next subject of her film about one of the most legendary houses in history, she knew the importance of that decision. The House of LaBeija, premiering at The Tribeca Film Festival, looks at the current members and leadership continuing their legacy as the first House of Ballroom. The story of ballroom and houses is a new concept for some youth, only coming to life with shows like Pose and Legendary, so it is imperative to educate LGBTQ youth by those living it. The film collaboration consisted of the current house members: Jasmine Rice, Jeffrey, Bougie, Diovanna, and Housemother Samil. It was an opportunity to look into the history of how they each got there. Each member shared how LaBeija made a difference in their lives and how they’re elevating the family name.
SAMIL LABEIJA (HOUSEMOTHER)
It's about leadership, so we work as a team. I feel like [having the men] empowered all of us, having them as our backup and pushing us. That gave me a sense of tranquility because I did feel it was overwhelming, having to take on this title without the knowledge. It was just handed to me, so with the work that I started putting in and my service. I could grow within my title and earn the position I now have. I do have individual relationships with everyone in the house. So it's all about the relationships that we have individually, not as a team, and we get to know each other on that level. We get to see what we've been through and relate that. I come from a broken family. Now I'm in a family united, and that makes me happy. I speak about that in the short film. Now we are together as a whole. So that empowers us to keep moving forward and thrive as a family.
It was a long journey before joining the house, and it was such a pivotal moment in my life because I'm from a strict and religious background. When I got to the United States, it was a different story. In 2020 I couldn't stay with my family, my blood relatives, anymore because I couldn't live in my truth. So, when the show Pose came out, I started watching it with interest. I started researching and watching all these documentaries on the internet. Then I heard about The House of LaBeija, especially in Paris is Burning. In the film Pepper LaBeija talks about her family and children. You can see how she impacted her family and the ballroom scene. This is the type of thing I want - a family that will give me what the one I have doesn't want to give me. That's what they have given me. The freedom I needed. The space I needed to come out of my shell. Before I joined this house, I was shy. Now my behavior with this family has changed my life. It has spilled into my day-to-day life. Because I am more confident. I can speak for myself. I can stand up for myself. I know that I'm not alone, even when I think I am. Because it's easy to think that when you don’t have people that support you where you need it. They support me - every time. They check up on me every time, more than my blood relatives. People are jealous because I have a better relationship with my LaBeija family than my blood family. I'm always defending my position with these people, but I love them dearly.
I am relatively new to ballroom. I joined my first house around 2016-2017 and joined the LaBeijas around 2 to 3 years later. So by the time I joined the LaBeijas, I had an idea of what I liked about ballroom. I knew that I was attracted to the culture, the history, and the legacy of Ballroom as a cultural institution and creative platform. Seeing its history bring us here today, I always respected the House of LaBeija because it is the first house. It is a house that Pepper [LaBeija] has famously said the name speaks for itself. So I'm coming into this space completely new. I don't know anyone, but I'm open to the experience of getting to know people. Because something that has always stressed about LaBeijas to me is they are very family-focused. Whether or not it is presented in the best ways, it is a core value now. So leading with that energy, Kitty was one of the first people I spoke to in the house, made a connection with, spoke with me individually, and was like, "I see something in you. Let me form a relationship with you and turn it into something." That just continued for almost three years, taking me through a pandemic transition to come in on the proverbial side of Tribeca. So that means to me, the LaBeijas, as I said, are the first house. We have gone through a lot in the history of this house. Ups and downs. Rises in popularity within ballroom - on the floor and off. I think the legacy of preservation that brings us to this current moment is the thing that has carried me through as to how strong this house is.
JASMINE RICE LABEIJA
Well, I joined this house by chance because my friend was in this house and like everyone else, I saw Paris is Burning and stuff like that. I have been recently thinking about everything that has come into my life, and I do not believe anything happens by chance. I think everything has a meaning, and there is a bigger plan. There is a saying in Korea that translates to, When animals die, they leave their fur, and when humans die, they leave their name." I feel I am destined to be leave my name behind. I think that is why I'm in the house. Just look at the legacy. Look at what this amazing house, which is the blueprint of Ballroom, has done. All these wonderful POC women have led society, too. Without Ballroom and people like Crystal LaBeija and Pepper, and the list goes on and on, where would we be? I mean the whole queer culture and this openness and this creativity - breaking down these social constructs and building new ones. It all comes from these POC /queer communities and ballroom. What a blessing to be a part of legacy and history, because that's what we are.
I came into the house in the House of LaBeija in 2012. When I first joined the house, I'd known about the house in the eighties - I KNEW about the house! But it was different when I came in. When I came in, I was going through a transition myself. I was getting back into working after we went through the recession in 2008 with Obama. I needed to focus on this new job and get the hang of that. But somewhere around 2014, I got into the legacy of this house, and then it became about what I needed to do, which is service. I realized what I was facing, especially with the house back then. It was really about this house having a legacy. Social media was starting to take over, and there was always an opportunity, but nobody was pretty doing preservation. For some reason it just felt that was my job in this house. I need to figure out how to preserve this house. I need to focus on preservation and service. I just took off from there. I started making it not about me. I started making it about the members, and I started empowering, and then I decided to go and take it further and focus on the girls. Because that's what Ballroom started with - it was about celebrating transgender and cis gender women. Men did not come into Ballroom until 1974, and it was a Pioneer Junior LaBeija who was the first male member allowed within ballroom, and other gentlemen followed him. So I was like, let's take it back to what ballroom was. Then I found myself at the forefront of the leadership with the house and putting women upfront like Samil became a mother. Vivian was the overall mother. Now she's Queen Mother. Jasmine became the international mother - all these amazing things, and I can only talk about the House of LaBeija, not other houses. But we have women at the forefront, and it's their responsibility what they want to do with their titles. But, you can't say, in today's Generation Z, that in the house of LaBeija, the women are not in the forefront because they are. When this project happened, I felt so humble by watching these women celebrated in their authenticity, their beauty, and just the natural order of who they are. I'm lucky because I don't have a surface relationship with them. I know them all individually and what they're about. I feel so honored to be a part of this project and to know them on that level.
“The House of LaBeija” will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 12th. Tickets are on sale at https://tribecafilm.com/