How Do I Look

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How Do I Look
Directed by
Produced byWolfgang Busch
CinematographyWolfgang Busch
Edited by
  • Wolfgang Busch
  • Darryl Hell
  • Gregg Payne
Music by
Distributed byArt From the Heart Films
Release date
  • June 4, 2006 (2006-06-04) (New York City)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States

How Do I Look is a 2006 American documentary directed by Wolfgang Busch. The film chronicles ball culture in Harlem and Philadelphia over a ten-year period.


Wolfgang Busch began interviewing subjects from the ball circuit in the mid-1990s and continued filming for a decade.[1] How Do I Look documents the ball culture, which began in the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance,[2] and has since influenced mainstream artists and musicians. The film follows several ball "legends" such as Willi Ninja, Kevin UltraOmni, Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija and Jose Xtravaganza. Many of the subjects that are featured in How Do I Look were also featured in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning.[1]

How Do I Look also explores the prejudices members of the ball culture face due to their sexuality and race.[3] In a 2005 New York Times article, choreographer Willi Ninja commented about the mainstream society's readiness to embrace facets of ball culture while also rejecting the Ball "children" due to their sexuality:

... "If Madonna does voguing, it's O.K.," he added. "But when the ball children dance, even now, people say, 'Oh, it's a bunch of crazy queens throwing themselves on the floor.'"[1]

Other subjects speak about their attempts to forge careers in mainstream society and the effect that HIV and AIDS has had on ball culture as many of the subjects featured died of AIDS during or shortly after filming was complete.


Box office[edit]

As an independent film production, How Do I Look did not receive financing or distribution from the commercial film industry. The filmmakers arranged independent screenings and distribution world-wide. As a result, the film was not made widely available in commercial movie theatres or art-houses upon its release in June 2006 during Gay Pride month. The documentary's earnings have principally come from the sale of DVD's and, more recently, from online streaming sites. Over the years, however, How Do I Look has earned commercial success by word of mouth recommendations, its numerous appearances in film festivals, and from its goodstanding relationship with the Ball community.

Critical response[edit]

Prior to its release in 2006, early screenings of How Do I Look garnered prominent media mentions in the Village Voice, the New York Post, and the New York Times.[4][5][6][7] Early on, How Do I Look was noted as an "awareness program," alluding to the film's noble aspects to empower members 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 film's numerous screenings in academic settings were reported.

In the years following its release, How Do I Look has repeatedly been the subject of reports in the foreign press, including in the French public radio channel, France Inter.[8] The documentary was noted for its goal of empowering the LGBTQ Ballroom community, in particular following the AIDS pandemic, as was reported in Italian Vogue.[9] In Spanish Vanity Fair, the documentary was noted for having given new life to the vogue (dance) artistic impression, in particular by having added social, racial, and political conscience to the Ballroom community.[10]


Because How Do I Look was produced by and for the Ballroom community, it has been praised for having the coöperation of the Ball community in its production and for being faithful to its subject matter. The documentary has been named to several must-watch lists by the LGBTQ media. Them, the LGBTQ publication owned by Conde Naste, short-listed How Do I Look in its review of Ballroom history.[11] Out magazine listed How Do I Look amongst six films about the Ballrooms and voguing.[12] Mainstream culture publications, like W magazine, have also short-listed How Do I Look as a must-see "pride" film for LGBTQ audiences.[13]

The revealing interviews documented in How Do I Look have been lauded, in retrospect, for having been ahead of their time. In a review of "Transgender Sex Work and Society," which has been described as the definitive book about transgender sex work, a transgender star of How Do I Look was noted for her frank talk about transgender sex work.[14]


How Do I Look began filming in the wake of accusations that the filmmaker behind Paris Is Burning had exploited members of the Ballroom community during the making of that film.[15] The accused exploitation was the inspiration for How Do I Look, said co-assistant director Kevin Omni.[16] In the years since How Do I Look was released, the documentary has been mentioned by many as providing balance to and/or a follow-up or sequel of Paris Is Burning. Two of the co-assistant directors of the film were members of the Ballroom community, Kevin Omni and Luna Khan. In the media, Omni has also noted that the film aimed to create "possibilities" for members of the Ballroom community.

Production notes[edit]

How Do I Look was filmed in New York City and Philadelphia. It premiered at the NewFest Film Festival in New York City in June 2006. The assistant directors were Kevin Burrus and Luna Khan.

Home media[edit]

How Do I Look was released on Region 1 DVD in the United States.


  1. ^ a b c Trebay, Guy (May 22, 2005). "Still Striking a Pose". The New York Times. p. 1.
  2. ^ Kilpatrick, Kate (February 14, 2007). "Philly Is Burning". p. 1. Archived from the original on July 16, 2014. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  3. ^ Trebay, Guy (January 11, 2000). "Legends of the Ball". p. 1.
  4. ^ "Legends of the Ball". 11 January 2000.
  5. ^ "Paris' Revisited Follow-up Film Returns To Drag Queen Ball Scene". 23 September 2001.
  6. ^ Cotter, Holland (24 October 2003). "ART IN REVIEW; 'DL: The Down Low in Contemporary Art'". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Trebay, Guy (22 May 2005). "Still Striking a Pose". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Le "voguing" : de la communauté noire LGBT à Madonna... Histoire d'un mouvement". 10 September 2018.
  9. ^ "Voguing is back!". 18 March 2016.
  10. ^ "Del 'Ballroom' al Orgullo 'Drag' de Beyoncé y la Memoria de Venus Xtravaganza". 17 December 2017.
  11. ^ "Ballroom 101: The History Behind the Culture on Pose". 4 June 2018.
  12. ^ "Learn It: 6 Movies and TV Shows About Ballroom and Voguing". 17 June 2020.
  13. ^ "5 LGBTQ Documentaries to Stream After Disclosure".
  14. ^ "New Book Looks at Lives of Trans Sex Workers in World of Ryan Murphy's "Pose"". 2 June 2018.
  15. ^ "Paris Is Burning Is Back—And So Is Its Baggage". Vanity Fair. 18 June 2019.
  16. ^ "Why are LGBT people of color protesting the screening of this cult film classic?". The Daily Dot. 14 May 2015.

External links[edit]