Dear Ballroom Family, Friends and Supporters
How Do I Look (Art From The Heart Films, 2006) is an independent documentary, produced by selected members from the Ballroom community. Its mission was to release a more balanced follow up in content to the exploitative and controversial Hollywood film, Paris is Burning (Miramax, 1990), to clean-up the trail of stigma and to heal the open wounds it left behind the Ballroom community are still struggling with today.
The release of Paris Is Burning became controversial the day it was released, because it used sensationalistic content in their marketing materials to sell movie tickets and to grab the media attention. The director Jeannie Livingston also chose to mis-portray the Ballroom community as thieves, prostitutes, and drug users over successful Ballroom members, for example, those working on Wall Street with business degrees. Livingston presented herself and her film crews as NYU students, making the Ballroom community believe that their contributions were to benefit her student project. She misrepresented herself and her intentions turned out not to be true. Naturally several successful lawsuits were filed and left the community with anger and outrage.
For decades, the stereotypes surrounding Paris Is Burning hindered the future viability for Ballroom community members to record and to document the oral and visual Ballroom history and to find commercial success in their career pursuits as dancers, choreographers, fashion designers, models, and entertainers. In addition, it also foreshadowed more commercial and community abuse and exploitation and is the reason why members from the Ballroom community feel they are living in an “Artistic Ghetto.”
Ballroom historians, including How Do I Look producer Kevin Omni and director Wolfgang Busch, are releasing the attached Ballroom document via a press release, to provide historic relevant information and to adding to their mission to "set the record straight."
How Do I Look was able to surpass Paris Is Burning in credibility due to the latter's shortcomings in historic importance and cultural values. Over the years, these quotes, research, and information with historical context have been collected and are being released to the media and academics for the first time, to provide new insights about the Ballroom community with the intention to inspire the media and academics to extend their reporting.
- The box-office success of Paris Is Burning was mainly based on providing an inside-look into the Ballroom community for the first time. Its audiences had no other film options to put PIB into perspective to make a more educated decision -- until How Do I Look was released in 2006.
- After the release of How Do I Look, and growing up in the shadow of Paris is Burning, it took more than 10 years for How Do I Look to reach its international status as being real and is serving as the true cultural ambassador for the Ballroom community.
- Ballroom historians and Ballroom Hall-of-Famers Marcel Christian, Kevin Omni, Octavia St. Laurent, Paris Dupree, Tracy Africa, and Carmen Xtravaganza rejected Paris is Burning right from the beginning for copyright issues, the lack of HIV/AIDS coverage, for its unbalanced content, exploitative promotion materials, and for director Jeannie Livingston’s focus on lurid aspects of the community.
- By ignoring and turning a blind eye to the Ballroom community’s outcry for justice and pointing out the scars it left behind, Paris is Burning managed to remain the main focus in the mainstream media and student theses as the only lens through which the Ballroom community should be viewed, even though How Do I Look was released and has been commercially available since 2006.
- For decades, the Ballroom community’s rejection of Paris is Burning was completely ignored across the board, despite the controversies upon its release and continuing through 2015, when members from the Ballroom community boycotted a screening of Paris is Burning and Q&A by the director Jeannie Livingston. After its release, Livingston gave those a voice in the Ballroom community who cared more about personal gain and fame over the community’s reputation, safety, and protection. It was one of the reasons why Livingston was never invited back to attend another major ball. To mainstream audiences, it didn't matter if the Ballroom community had rejected and boycotted the film over complaints that Paris is Burning had misrepresented them. But at what cost ?
- Because of Paris is Burning, no photography and videography was allowed for many years at Balls. This gutted the ability of the Ballroom community to preserve and record its natural artistic progression, talents and contributions to culture. This development was devastating, and it was just one of the ways in which Paris Is Burning wreaked havoc on the Ballroom community. But the media never shined a light on the devastation.
- Hollywood is a business, and it was more important to the producers and media-makers to fill their appetite of showcasing the Ballroom community's dirty laundry in public and to expose them with their "pants down,” over respectful and fair reporting, much less a portrayal that was culturally-competent.
- Because of the media's bias, How Do I Look was pushed back and pushed out by the mainstream media and by organizational leaders within the LGBTQ community who profited from it. Naturally, the independently released How Do I Look documentary could not compete with the corporate money machine. Even with great reviews and touching peoples’ hearts, How Do I Look struggled for mainstream coverage and a theatrical release to share its positive messages and to provide healing to the Ballroom community from the scars Paris Is Burning left behind.
- But that has finally changed. After years of collecting and analyzing How Do I Look data, the attached press release reveals that How Do I Look has risen to the occasion. The unfiltered voices from the Ballroom community are being transmitted worldwide, and the cultural, historic, and educational content took How Do I Look out of the shadow and continues to benefit from changing public opinion.
- The press release also reveals how How Do I Look director Wolfgang "Omni" Busch is contributing to the Ballroom community through screenings with lectures and live performances at the most prestigious universities in the country ; he contributes artistically by inventing the “Floguing dance ; financially by giving back from its proceeds via sponsorships, donations, and speaker stipends ; culturally and educationally by producing the week-long First International Ballroom Convention in Harlem ; and historically by creating and sponsoring the first Online Ball competitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For an exclusive link to review the humanitarian award-winning documentary How Do I Look, or to schedule an interview with the producers, please contact Wolfgang Omni Busch or Kevin Burrus Omni at your earliest convenience. We thank you kindly for your time and consideration and together we keep the Ballroom legacy alive.
Wolfgang Omni Busch or Kevin Burrus Omni
Ballroom Historians, Activists and Lecturers from the Legendary House of Omni, founded in 1979.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact : Wolfgang Busch, 718-623-2926, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Omni Burrus, 862-588-3395 KevinOmniBurrus@gmail.com Website: www.ArtFromTheHeartnyc.org
Independent Harlem Ballroom Culture Voguing Documentary Goes Global ;
How Do I Look Wins Over Critics, Short-Listed as "Must-See" ;
How Do I Look preserves authentic Ball culture unlike any other film or Reality TV show and has become an ambassador for the Ballroom community;
Ballroom Community stands by Director since 1995, a sign of credibility, loyalty and dedication.
New York, NY (Oct. 09, 2020) -- The Humanitarian award winning documentary, How Do I Look (Art From The Heart Films, 2006), has established itself as the most credible and authentic documentary about the Ballroom community (aka Harlem Drag Balls), overtaking the controversial and exploitative film, Paris Is Burning, according to several recent media sources.
It didn't take long after the release of Paris Is Burning (Miramax, 1990) for the Ballroom community to know that they had gotten used by the director, Jennie Livingston. Almost immediately, featured stars of the Ballroom community saw millions of dollars exchange hands based on their identity, their life stories, and their talents -- but that money didn't show up in their pockets, leaving many Ballroom icons and legends feeling like they were played.
"I first was introduced to the Ballroom community in 1987 at the club Tracks on 19th street in New York City, before they had been used by Hollywood. It was before they had appeared in a documentary that was distributed by Miramax, a major Hollywood studio headed at that time then by Harvey Weinstein and his brother. The Ballroom historians from the community had felt cheated and exploited," said Wolfgang Busch, the director of How Do I Look, adding that, "When I began going to Balls, I saw the artistry and talents and experienced magical moments, and I wanted to be a part of telling the story of the Ballroom community with realness and beauty and from a community perspective."
'Pioneer Diamond Icon Kevin Ultra Omni, a Ballroom Hall of Famer, Historian, Lecturer and Educator' has said :
"The House Ballroom structure to me was like a big Audition. You could be a model, actor, actress, dancer, singer, designer, educator, etc. Many talented individuals came out of Ballroom, such as the famous R.I.P. Willi Ninja Leake, Dorian Corey, Avis Fowler Pendarvis, Chipper Corey, Richard Ebony, Jerome Arms Omni,Paris Robert Issacs Dupree, and many more.
"I'm proud to say that I am the Assistant Director of the film/documentary How Do I Look. This film has given the Ballroom Community a voice and a chance to express many feelings and emotions. Most importantly, How Do I Look allowed the Community to freely share their stories to the media and public.
"As of September 2020, I am proud to say that the Ballroom Community is now more respected by the media, because of How Do I Look -- to a certain degree. Most media outlets and university students now just re-tell the same stories and use quotes from others that were published in the news and theses. However, there are many hard working Pioneers, who are still alive today who are making Ballroom History and are keeping the Legacy alive. They are the ones who paved the way, but their voices are not heard, and their experience and stories are not included by the media and university students.
"In this 'New Era,' many take credit for the hard work of others who were not from the original 'White Era' Ballroom House Structure scene, such as Not–For–Profit community based organizations ; politicians and government agencies ; TV producers and even subordinates," said Kevin Ultra Omni, assistant director of How Do I Look.
It's time to set the record straight.
Archie Burnett Ninja is the original father of the House of Ninja and an ambassador to the world of Old Way voguing, said, "How Do I Look as a source material about the Ballroom culture brings a more in-depth spectrum of what has occurred after the world's global introduction to this world. I have been fortunate to be the pioneering Catalyst for the Ballroom Culture in Europe, and I can safely say this documentary gives at that time, a very intriguing what’s happening now since its predecessor," adding that, "Wolfgang has been dedicated to this culture for a very long time -- yeeeeeeeeears. Yes, I’ve known him that long. For me, some of the performance footage is stunning. I will always be a dancer first, so I will always gravitate to that. As I teach and spread the culture all over the world, this documentary has become an inspirational source material for places like Brazil, for example. The lifestyle -- the duality that exists balancing the real world with Ballroom life and the struggle for equality. I’m very proud of his documentary and the story that he tells. What we do is social work in its simplest sense, and documentaries like this help bring us closer to the ideal utopian existence. And the work continues...."
From the very beginning, the Ballroom community had to make their own spaces for culture and economic self-sufficiency. They did this by creating Balls and competing within a House system of families. After the exploitative experience with Paris Is Burning, the Houses had to once again create their own space in order to have their own say in how they were perceived. The director Busch helped the Ballroom community to do that with How Do I Look, which, 14 years since its release in 2006, has now finally received acknowledgements in the media for the faithfulness and respect shown to the Ballroom community.
At long last, the true story of How Do I Look's cultural impact can be told.
Preserving Ballroom Culture
How Do I Look ("HDIL") is the first Ballroom Culture film to provide screenings with lectures and live performances at prestigious Universities, Colleges, High Schools, Not-For-Profit Youth and AIDS Organizations, Community Centers, Corporations and Churches in the United States and Europe and for Black Pride and Black History Month Celebrations and World AIDS Day.
HDIL's positive cultural and HIV/AIDS awareness messages touches peoples' hearts worldwide and has changed public opinion about the controversial film Paris is Burning by Jeannie Livingston and has put it in its historical perspective.
HDIL has become an ambassador in serving the Ballroom community on the highest cultural and historic levels, is re-building the Ballroom's reputation, and is healing the wounds from the damages Paris is Burning and AIDS Agencies with questionable motivations left behind.
HDIL continues the Ballroom tradition of influencing superstars; fashion designers; educators; authors; University, College, and High School students; and members from the community around the globe.
The HDIL “Vogue History, Old Way” segment from the documentary was released 12 years ago on YouTube [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwu-YJqDd0s], and it has generated over 22,000 views, inspiring and influencing mostly the “White Straight Female Dancers” in Europe and Asia by Old Way dancers Archie Ninja, Cesar Valentino, and Aus Omni. HDIL was the first documentary to give detailed explanation to the “Old Way” voguing dance. As a result, HDIL introduced the “Old Way” voguing dance to many female dancers from all backgrounds, after they were first exposed to “New Way” voguing by members from the House of Ninja (Willi Ninja, Benny and Javier Ninja), Aviance Milan, Stiffy Revlon, and Jose Xtravaganza by traveling to Europe, Asia and Russia.
HDIL provided the members of the Ballroom community with many opportunities to let their voices be heard in print media and through interviews on commercial and non-commercial TV and radio.
HDIL is also used by University students for thesis, research, lectures, outreach, and education, and the documentary is available at University libraries across theUnited States and Europe.
Pre Release History
Director and Producer Wolfgang Busch attended his first Ball in 1987 by the House of Xtravaganza at the club Tracks in the West Village in New York City. Busch was so impressed with this spectacular that he said to himself, "One day I want to work with this community." Little did he know at the time that 7 years later, in 1995, he would be taping the first Ball at Sally's in New York City. The rest is history.
Filming for HDIL began in 1995 in New York City and continued through 2005. Filming in Philadelphia took place in 2000. Beginning in 2002, the Humanitarian award winning director and LGBT Hall Of Famer Wolfgang Busch provided many screenings-in-process to provide the Ballroom community with access to the director and to exchange ideas about any changes they may want to provide a positive, participatory experience in making a documentary about their community.
Those pre-release screening measures were taken by Busch as a result of how the film Paris is Burning focused on exploitative content about the Ballroom community, which negatively affected the community members. Since 1995, Busch consulted with Ballroom Historians and Ballroom Hall of Famers Kevin Omni, Marcel Christian, Icon Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija, Gerald Labeija, David Ultima and Alvernian Prestige from Philadelphia, and called the first meeting on August 1, 2001, at the LGBT Community Center in New York City, which continued through 2005. Busch also attended House meetings with the House of Omni, House of Khan, and House of Xtravaganza. Julie Infiniti from the Hetrick Martin Institute became our first official intern.
Pre-release screenings also included screenings in Chicago, Philadelphia, Oberlin College, New York University, and at Yale University to get feedback and to help bring home our messages of providing a balance to Paris is Burning, artistic empowerment, and HIV/AIDS awareness respectfully and with dignity.
Wolfgang Busch's intention was to maximize the economic and artistic opportunities and created an organization called H.O.P.E. (House Of Performance Empowerment). He formed a board of directors including Michael Roberson from the POCC AIDS organization in Brooklyn. As it turned out under Roberson's leadership, the Board tried to rob Busch from his How Do I Look film, and so Busch folded the group before it got off the ground. (Later, Roberson was accused of misappropriation of funds by People of Color in Crisis; POCC.)
What the Ballroom Hall of Famers and Icons say about HDIL
Willi Ninja, the late grand-father and most recognized voguing dancer featured in "How Do I Look", made the statement : “Voguing has never been documented more complete.”
Octavia St. Laurent, the late Icon and the most recognized Third Gender in the Transsexual community and featured in HDIL made the statement : "How Do I Look is too real for the general audience."
Tracy Africa, the most recognized International Fashion Model featured in HDIL made the statement "How Do I Look is a balance to Paris is Burning."
Carmen Xtravaganza set the record straight. See "Paris Is Burning, The Dark Side" (where Xtravaganza said, "I think you, Wolfgang, are giving us the opportunity to speak-out, to talk more about what the kids did then, what are they doing now. What we can give the straight community and the gay community, you know ? For them to see something different -- that Jenny Livingston did not show.")
American Media (pre-release)
Prior to its release in 2006, early screenings of HDIL won the attention and praise of prominent cultural media, including the Village Voice, the New York Post, the New York Times, and many local and regional publications.
- From the beginning, Paris Is Burning was seen as condescending towards its subjects. In contrast, Busch has spoken about the youth in the Ballroom community ("Ball children") competing in newer categories. The Ball children were bringing new energy to Balls. See https://www.villagevoice.com/2000/01/11/legends-of-the-ball/ (where Paris Is Burning was faulted for its shortcomings : "The ball children were depicted as sub cultural wannabes, pathetic in their yearning for arrival, acceptance, the trappings of wealth." In the cultural criticism that formed in the media (because it surely was lacking in Paris Is Burning), there emerged a sensibility to politicize the Ballroom community members' desire for greater economic opportunity. Of the Houses' use of fashion empires for identity, the critic Guy Trebay wrote, "Scarcely anyone noticed the ways in which their appropriations of labels and symbols constituted a kind of interrogation of power, which is to say of maleness, and white maleness at that."). From the outset, the Ballroom community and Busch would invoke the oppression, politics, and economics facing the Ballroom community, as evidenced below. See Correcting the Record of Paris Is Burning (below).
- Early on, HDIL was noted as an "awareness program," alluding to the film's noble aspects to empower members of the Ballroom community -- artistically and financially. See https://nypost.com/2001/09/23/paris-revisited-follow-up-film-returns-to-drag-queen-ball-scene/ (where Busch and Omni said that their goal was to bring awareness and grants to the artists, designers, and performers of the Ballroom community).
- The media attention also focused on the African-American and Latino gay subculture, who were known to go to lengths to keep their homosexuality "under wraps," a situation referred to as being on the down low. Often, the media would focus on the sexuality of members of the Ballroom community. See https://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/24/arts/art-in-review-dl-the-down-low-in-contemporary-art.html (where one critic unfairly reduced Ball culture to "transsexual club life").
- Often, the film's numerous screenings in academic settings were reported against a backdrop of continued interest in Ball culture. See https://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/22/fashion/sundaystyles/still-striking-a-pose.html (where HDIL was described as a "a new documentary that brings things vividly up to date.").
Some Ballroom History (courtesy of 'Pioneer Diamond Icon Kevin Ultra Omni, a Ballroom Hall of Famer, Historian, and Educator')
"The 'House Structured Ball Scene' as we know it today, started in 1972 by the House of Labeija. When I think about when I went to my first "Ball" in 1975, it was basically a “Drag Ball.” I was fortunate to have entered into the Ballroom House Structured Scene with a College education and a prestigious position on Wall Street in New York City. My members were selected by similarities in our lifestyles: education, jobs, and personalities.
"Having the support of my Blood family was also a blessing. This helped me to be successful and somewhat stable-minded. My family attended many of my Ball events, and I was always able to share that same love, experience, and support with my Omni members and family.
"When I think about my beginning, I think about the many struggles that we, 'The Ballroom Community,' were facing, such as: producing events, finding the right venue, the day and time of the Ball, and getting an audience to pay for our expenses.
"When I started going to Balls regularly in 1979, the male categories were just beginning. At the same time, I got more involved, and, together with my co-founder Thomas Omni Dimples Baker, we founded the House of Omni. Today my House is called 'The Pioneering World-wide Icon House of Ultra Omni.'
"The Balls were held mainly in Harlem, New York City. When I think of my very first Event, which was held in midtown Manhattan, it was the year 1983. I was the first Founder/Father to introduce the Harlem House Structured Balls to midtown Manhattan. I also pioneered the time change of the Ball Events from 5am to 10pm.
"Nowadays, we refer to the beginning of the 'House Structured Balls in NYC' as the 'White Era,' from 1972 until 1985. In this 'White Era,' we produced only 7 or 8 events yearly in the confines of New York City.
"Following the 'White Era' is the 'Red Era,' which started in 1986 until 1989. During the 'Red Era,' the Harlem Ballroom scene was starting to go national -- New Jersey; Washington, DC; Philadelphia; and Chicago.
"As the scene was expanding and growing, we had many obstacles to face. There were Ballroom producers, who struggled financially in regards to producing events. During the 'White Era,' we had to be supportive of one another in order to produce successful events. We did so by selling tickets and promoting everyone's event, and the Houses shared a great deal when it came to supporting each other.
"During the early 1980s, the struggles by the Ballroom community facing the AIDS epidemic were ignored by Gay Men's Health Crisis(GMHC) and Gay Men of African Decent (GMAD). In 1983, GMHC responded to the AIDS epidemic by starting the "Latex Ball" outreach program, to educate the Ballroom community about HIV/AIDS. The "Latex Ball" became very controversial amongst the Ballroom Historians and Icons due to the lack of transparency, exclusion of Blacks and Ballroom Historians, accusations of money laundering, cutting into the Ballroom economy by the millions, charging young members from the community for HIV testing, re-writing Ballroom History, and for "black listing" the How Do I Look documentary.
"However, the Ballroom Community evolved from the 17th Century to Harlem Drag Balls, to the House Structured Scene as we know it today. I am grateful and appreciative of my time and effort of being a part of a wonderful creative Community."
Correcting the Record of Paris Is Burning
Since 1995, How Do I Look has served the Ballroom Community to achieve a balance to the controversial film Paris Is Burning, which portrayed the community as thieves, prostitutes, and drug users, and it completely ignored the AIDS epidemic. HDIL has recognized that producers and Families in the Ballroom Community needed to be supported to achieve their own artistic progression.
- In a 2013 interview with the Windy City Times, Busch said that there needed to be a "balance" to how the Ballroom was portrayed in Paris Is Burning. See http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/SUMMER-MOVIES-How-Do-I-Look-filmmaker-Busch-talks-ball-culture/42997.html (where Busch said, "There are elements in Paris Is Burning that are definitely correct but they [the Ballroom community] felt that they were also being portrayed as a bunch of thieves, prostitutes and drug users—not to say that these are not elements in the community but, a) these elements are in every community and b) it's how you present it. It just wasn't done responsible and respectfully."). As a result, Busch has long argued that Paris Is Burning came across exploitative and disrespectful and was an insult to many in the community.
- After Ballroom members presented claims for compensation, Livingston paid out about $55,000 to 13 people featured in the film. This was after the film grossed over $4 million during its theatrical release on a budget of $500,000. Many Ballroom community members appearing in Paris Is Burning felt used and powerless by their experience with Hollywood exploitation. As was often the experience of Houses and Ballroom producers, the economics of successfully hosting their own Balls was a challenge, and to see a Hollywooddirector swoop in and collect so much money so easily was an affront to the Ball community. See https://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/18/style/paris-has-burned.html (where Pepper Labeija said of her experience with Livingston, "I feel betrayed," adding that the settlement was woefully insignificant : "The $5,000 I got was hush money. We didn't have no choice but to take it. And $1,500 went to my lawyer for doing nothing." In an environment where many of the Ballroom community faced adversity to make a living from their art, Labeija spoke about not being able to move out of their mother's apartment up in the Bronx.).
Prior to the production of HDIL, Ballroom Icons and Historians met at the LGBT Community Center in New York City with the director Wolfgang Busch to talk about what they would like HDIL to be.
In the years since HDIL was released, the documentary has been widely recognized in Film Festivals worldwide and by the media -- and, more importantly, by members of the Ballroom community -- as providing balance and sequel in content to Paris Is Burning. Two of the co-assistant directors of the film were members of the Ballroom community, Kevin Ultra Omni and Luna Khan. And HDIL is owned by Art From The Heart Films, which was inducted into the Queens Hall Of Fame in 2018 and 2020 for Best Gay & Lesbian Company in Queens, New York. Art From The Heart Films has become an important LGBTQ distribution media outlet, located in New York City, and the out-gay director Wolfgang Busch has been an official member of the House of Ultra Omni since 1995, serving as an advisor and manager of the Kevin Omni Burial Fund, providing financial assistance to families with children from the Ballroom community who passed away from AIDS.
The turning of public opinion against Paris Is Burning was arguably shaped by Art From The Heart Films, which, in 2013, produced and released a short video directed by Busch, entitled "Paris Is Burning, The Dark Side," about the disapproval by the Ballroom's historians and icons featured in Paris Is Burning.
- See https://youtu.be/WkAUulnxv8Q (where Frances White, a dean at New York University, described Paris Is Burning "as an exploitive film," adding that the way Ballroom culture was portrayed by that documentary "frightens" young students wanting to learn about Ball culture, adding that the take-away impressions of Ballroom culture were negative, offering misconceptions like, "This is a terrible life, this is abnormal, this is something horrible," as examples of the sensibility wrongly imparted by Paris Is Burning.)
- Marcel Christian Labeija, a Ballroom historian and Hall of Famer described his interactions with Livingston. See "Paris Is Burning, The Dark Side" (where Marcel said that Livingston was interested in knowing who the "thieves" were in the Ballroom community, how she used an "all-White crew," and that the brochure advertising Paris Is Burning put emphasis on the "prostitutes" and "Welfare recipients" within the community, adding that when he saw the way that the advertising brochure showed how Paris Is Burning was going to portray the Ballroom community, "That's when I had a thing against her [Livingston].").
- Carmen Xtravaganza, a Ballroom Hall of Famer felt used by Livingston. See "Paris Is Burning, The Dark Side" (where Xtravaganza said of Livingston, "I felt that she took advantage of all of us -- all of us, you know ? But I didn't benefit nothing out of it," she said, referring to Paris Is Burning.).
- Octavia St. Laurent, a Ballroom Hall of Famer who had to overcome adversity in her life to empower herself, has a poor perception of Paris Is Burning. See "Paris Is Burning, The Dark Side" (where St. Laurent said of the Livingston film, "It's a terrible movie. I don't understand why people think it's so great.").
How the Ballroom Community Honors director Wolfgang Busch and the film How Do I Look
Pre - Release
- 2014 The Omni, "Icon" Award
- 2008 Marcel Christian "Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humane Letters"
- 2005 "Lifetime Achievement and Service" Award from Kevin Omni & Willi Ninja
- 2004 "Avis Pendavis Creativity & Community" Award from the House of Khan
- 2003 "The KEVIN OMNI Lifetime Achievement" Award
- 2003 "Achievement" Award, Joseph Ebony - Taz Omni
- 2003 "Example of Excellence" from the House of Omni and House of Ebony
- 2000 "Appreciation" Award from the House of Omni, 20th Anniversary
- Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJp5YMfmJM4
HIV/AIDS Awareness, Education and Advocacy
HDIL has been screened for multiple events in coordination with World AIDS Day, for example at New York University. Given the isolation, suffering, and sacrifice that members of the Ballroom community made during the AIDS pandemic, HDIL has celebrated their lives and to showcase the artistry, talent, and contributions by Ballroom members to culture and to society.
Quotes from HDIL: https://www.howdoilooknyc.org/the-ones-we-lost.html
HDIL director Wolfgang Busch and assistant director Kevin Ultra Omni, are also known for their activism. They picketed Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and their then-executive director Marjorie Hill for using and abusing the Harlem Ballroom community by cutting into the Ballroom economy by millions of dollars and for re-writing Ballroom History and misrepresenting Ballroom culture at their annual Latex Balls.
When GMHC began hosting balls through its opportunistic House of Latex, by creating an artificial Ballroom community of very young Ballroom members and created the now-known Kiki scene. By creating unnecessary art programs that were adversarial to the Ballroom community, rather than to stay focused on health and outreach programs, GMHC decided to corrupt the young members from the Ballroom community and those willing to sell-out their own community to make a few dollars. In order to stay in business and to continue to receive government and private funding, the Ballroom community accused GMHC of robbing the Ballroom community of opportunities to be economically self-supporting. GMHC failed to create decent-paying jobs for the Ballroom community. It became clear by removing the Ballroom activists and historians from the conversation, the motivation of GMHC was to keep their $250,000 executive jobs rather than help the Ballroom community to become more independent. Ballroom community producers were unable to compete with the Latex Ball, which was funded by AIDS money and at some Latex Balls, the young adults had to pay admission for HIV testing. This rivalrous model was also adopted later by other AIDS agencies in New York City and across the country. Not only that, but by GMHC doing so, the creativity and natural progression within the Ballroom community was now being manipulated and corrupted by an AIDS agency who had little and no knowledge about artistic natural progression and programs, which put the artistic development and evolution on hold and no new natural talents such as Willi Ninja, Dorian Corey, Ross Infiniti and Ballroom Historian Kevin Ultra Omni had come out of the Ballroom community since.
GMHC's "invasion" of the Ballroom community was harmful and exploitative, and Busch, Omni, and others called that out.
- Busch and Omni released videos with some friends, including activist Louis Flores, resulting in the resignation of Executive Director Marjorie Hill and Dirk McCall. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wW0eHm5ndU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMjjWucA8vI.
- Jose Xtravaganza, a former choreographer and dancer for Madonna's music video "Vogue" and "Truth or Dare" documentary said that GMHC's House of Latex began to compete against legitimate Ballroom Houses in a harmful manner. See "Paris Is Burning, The Dark Side" (where Xtravaganza said of GMHC's House of Latex, "I think they got lost a little bit in the whole, 'My House is fabber than yours,' " adding that, "It became a thing where you would see, you know, a Latex chopping someone. And it's like, 'Wait a minute. Aren't you here to save the day ?' ").
To further address the damages of the AIDS epidemic in the Ballroom community, the Kevin “Omni” Burrus Burial Fund was founded on November 2012 by Kevin Ultra Omni and Wolfgang Omni Busch. The purpose of the Burial Fund is to help the less fortunate from the House Ball community to help pay for funeral expenses.
- See Burial fund, https://www.howdoilooknyc.org/kevin-omni-burrus-burial-fund.html
How are the proceeds of How Do I Look have been spent
It was the director's wish to re-invest proceeds back into the Ballroom community and to be actively involved in several fronts. Even though the director Wolfgang Busch was not "Walking Balls," his calling to contribute was historical. Busch's support of the artistic expression of the Ballroom community had cultural, artistic, and economic impacts. For example, Busch created an art-in-education video model to be used for theses and lectures. Busch expanded on this concept when he brought together the voguing community and the flagging dance community to create a new dance form called "Floguing: Flagging + Voguing = Floguing." Floguing was introduced to the public for the first time by co-founder Aaron Enigma from Chicago, Benny Ninja and Javier Ninja from New York in the music video "Flow Affair" by Jerico Of The Angels for the film soundtrack "Flow Affair," Busch's second documentary released in 2011 about the New York City and San Francisco flagging, fan and poi dance community. While in the late 1970s the Ballroom community invented the voguing dance, the white Leather scene in the West Village created the flag dance.
Busch created and introduced a new category for the Ballroom community called "Floguing" and sponsored several Floguing cash prizes at Balls. In addition, he consistently sponsors Balls and categories and donates to the Kevin Omni Burial Fund to give back to the community.
In 2014, Wolfgang produced and directed the First International Ballroom Convention in Harlem at the ChaShaMa gallary. It was a one, week-long convention including seven Ballroom Hall of Famers.
In 2020, Wolfgang Omni Busch created the First Online Ballroom competitions and sponsored the Grand Prizes of $200 each. Seehttps://wolfgangbusch.weebly.com/first-online-ball-competition.html
LGBTQ Community Empowerment/Gay Pride/Groundbreaking LGBTQ Historical Contributions
The media fallout to the scandal of exploitation created by Paris Is Burning has begun to validate How Do I Look over Paris Is Burning in many news reports and in the short-listings of must-see Ballroom and LGTBQ pride films. HDIL has been named to several must-watch lists by the LGBTQ media.
- Them, the LGBTQ publication owned by Condé Naste, short-listed How Do I Look in its review of Ballroom history. Seehttps://www.them.us/story/ball-culture-beyond-pose.
- Out magazine listed How Do I Look amongst six films about the Ballrooms and voguing. See https://www.out.com/print/2020/6/17/learn-it-6-movies-and-tv-shows-about-ballroom-and-voguing.
- Mainstream culture publications, like W magazine, have also short-listed How Do I Look as a must-see "pride" film for LGBTQ audiences. See https://www.wmagazine.com/story/lgbtq-documentaries-to-stream-pride/.
Black Empowerment/Black Pride (throughout)
HDIL has been screened at Black film festivals, and the documentary has been screened to coincide with Black Pride celebrations nationwide. James Saunders, founder of Black Pride NYC, was the treasurer of the National Black Prides, and he introduced HDIL to out-of-town Black Prides.
James Saunders, a New York City club promoter and special events producer and the founder of Black Pride NYC, has said of HDIL : "The film has a positive feel to it, gives you Ballroom history and stories about gender transitioning in a gay, Black competitive world. At Black Prides NYC, I included Balls, because of the lack of recognition within the Black community, and I wanted to be cultural and artistically inclusive. At my Black LGBT Caribbean cruises, I had people from other countries in attendance, where being gay is illegal. When we screened How Do I Look for my guests, I could see their eyes opening up, and they were very curious and enlightened by watching it. After watching How Do I Look, they got a better understanding of the variety of what gay Black culture has to offer and what the Ballroom culture is about."
European Media (post-release)
European media, with its unique eye as an independent observer of American culture, has celebrated HDIL for its contributions to the Ballroom community.
- In the years following its release, HDIL has repeatedly been the subject of reports in the foreign press, including in the French public radio channel, France Inter. See https://www.franceinter.fr/culture/le-voguing-de-la-communaute-noire-lgbt-a-madonna-histoire-d-un-mouvement (where HDIL was acknowledged in France Inter's look at voguing's history.).
- HDIL was credited alongside musical artists Madonna and Malcolm McLaren for helping to take voguing out of Harlem, as was reported in Italian Vogue. See https://www.vogue.it/news/vogue-arte/2016/03/18/voguing-is-back (where HDIL was noted for its goal of empowering the LGBTQ Ballroom community, in particular following the AIDS pandemic.).
- In Spanish Vanity Fair, the documentary was noted for having given new life to the voguing as a dance artistic impression years after the release of Paris Is Burning. See https://www.revistavanityfair.es/poder/articulos/voguing-la-pose-o-la-vida-parte-5/27561(where in particular it was noted that HDIL was "more committed" than Paris Is Burning, though less publicized and less fussed, adding that HDIL had influenced voguing by having added social, racial, and political conscience to it.).
During Ballroom competitions, people compete by walking in many different categories. Participants, who are eliminated by judges, are said to be "chopped." How Do I Look and Paris Is Burning have been in a competition in some form since the 1990's. But the judges of this larger competition have been the Ballroom community themselves, and they have "chopped" Paris Is Burning. This exclusive story can now be told.