‘I’m Your Venus’ Explores the Life of Murdered Trans Woman Venus Xtravaganza

The 23-year-old, who starred in the classic documentary Paris Is Burning, was found dead in a hotel room in 1988. The murder is still unsolved

Anyone who watches Paris Is Burning, Jennie Livingston’s iconic 1990 documentary about the New York City ballroom scene, will immediately fall in love with Venus Xtravaganza, the 23-year-old trans woman and aspiring model who is prominently featured in the film. In Paris Is Burning, the gorgeous, optimistic, fragile Venus describes her dreams of a better life from her grandmother’s home in Jersey City, only for the film to later reveal that she had been found strangled under a bed in a motel room at the age of 23. Her murder remains unsolved to this day.

More than 35 years after Venus’s tragic death, filmmaker Kimberly Reed has shed more light on her story and honored her legacy with I’m Your Venus, a documentary that premiered at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this month. I’m Your Venus brings together Venus’s two families: her biological family, the Pellagattis, as they try to work with the police to bring her killer to justice and grapple with their past treatment of her; and the Xtravaganzas, Venus’s ballroom family. In the film, the Pellagattis try to come to terms with their family’s treatment of Venus and get to know who their sister really was, in an effort to heal from the wounds caused by her untimely death.

In this exclusive clip, Venus’s brothers and niece meet Gisele Xtravaganza, the mother of the House of Xtravaganza, to discuss trying to reopen the NYPD files surrounding Venus’s case. Venus’s brothers “There’s a perception out there that we didn’t care about her, which is so far from the truth,” Venus’s brother John says, while Gisele discusses her desire to use Venus’s case to shine light on the untimely deaths of other members of the House of Xtravaganza. Working with the Pellagattis, she says, will hopefully “open up the door for other girls to get their cases solved.”

“It was exciting, and an honor, to witness the very first in-person meeting between the Pellagattis and Gisele, the current Mother of the House of Xtravaganza,” Reed tells Rolling Stone. “The union of these two families — biological and ballroom — is what our film is ultimately about.”