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Zion a narrative documentary telling the story of a renowned ballroom ICON, Pony Zion and the house he birthed in New York City and it's spread to Brasil.

A Brad Walrond Production
Zion is a story is about how black marginalized beings in New York City and São Paulo create their own agency, art, community, and culture(s) while facing systemic oppression and numbing stigma from within their communities of origin and society due to their race, class, gender and sexual identities. This story is about how ideas thrive, how cultures collide, and how humans co-create new futures for themselves.

The Situation

The House of Zion
Black and Latino bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer young people face tremendous obstacles. Whether born into middle/upper class families or economically disadvantaged ones, this community faces severe stigma around gender and sexual difference that precipitates real risks to their lives, emotional & spiritual well-being, and physical safety.
The global HIV/AIDS pandemic that emerged in late 1970s and early 1980s only amplified the deadly consequences of homophobia and transphobia. Black and Latino queer children faced being ostracized from their families of origin, their faith communities, and in many cases the black community writ large.

The Church

The Castaways
Many black religious and cultural institutions, even the most progressive ones, proliferated an abomination narrative from their pulpits and platforms, openly telling their congregants and members that AIDS was God’s way of punishing gay and queer people for their unholy lifestyles.
Many pastors refused to even bury gay and queer church members who died from AIDS related causes. Families that were able to funeralize their children in a church did so with closed caskets and censured burials where they refused to acknowledge the queer lives of the fallen much less how they died.

The Ballroom

Creating a Refuge, A Safe Space to Be
The Ballroom community emerged, spearheaded by the Drag Balls organized by Black and Latina transgender women who themselves had been outcast by their communities and the larger society.
Over time the House Ballroom Community grew as kinship organizations to create safe spaces for freedom of expression. Children, otherwise outcast, joined houses which nominally took the marquees of the great iconic European and American fashion houses, to compete in balls where they were allowed to co-create runways and experiences that reflected the diversity imbued to the fluidity of their gender expression and their sexualities.

The Movement

VOGUE EVOLUTION
Vogue, as an art form, emerges as a radical indigenous embodied intervention as black and brown queer bodies reclaimed, through performance, the telling of their own stories. The Ball created novel opportunities for young people to be honored and crowned among their peers for their truth-telling, nuance, originality, impact, and movement in ways otherwise impossible in their day to day lives in a society that by every turn sought to either kill, traumatize, or render them invisible.
In 2007 Devon Webster formed the House of Zion in New York’s Ballroom scene. Pony’s vision for the House of Zion was nested in his work in Public Health and out of concern for the challenging health outcomes facing his community, where HIV/AIDS among young Black and Latino gay and bisexual men who have sex with men in large American cities like New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago rival that of sub-Saharan Africa. Pony also was inspired by a strong desire to foster a bridge between the kinds of success, training, and opportunities he enjoyed as a professional dancer and celebrity choreographer (working with artists like Mariah Carey, Ashanti, and Lil’ Mo) and the cauldron of raw creativity and talent that has always been endemic to Ballroom culture.

BRASIL - House of Zion

In 2016 as part of a Residency in São Paulo Brazil Pony Zion opened up, on the spur of the moment, a São Paolo chapter of the House of Zion by deputizing new leaders there. Although the young people in São Paolo knew of the House Ballroom community and had in fact begun learning how to vogue by watching social media youtube clips, there was at the time no ballroom houses in Brasil. Zion was the first one.
São Paulo’s underground black queer artist community had already begun to cultivate its own creative leaders like Félix Pimenta, a dancer, performance artist, already a fixture and local celebrity. Flip Couto, a dancer, activist and choreographer and a collective of lgbtqia+ black artists had already begun Festa Amem, who used the framework of a party to create new spaces for São Paulo’s black queer community to convene and create in a judgement free zone and to mobilize around issues of sexual freedom, gender fluidity, racism, homophobia, transphobia, health disparities, stigma and marginalization.

ZION - The Documentary

In January 2019, Pony Zion returns to São Paulo Brasil for a two week residency to meet up with his fellow Brasilian Zions, to conduct workshops, and to co-create several performances. We want to capture and document these events as we chronicle the experiences and testimonies of the house members, collaborators, and participants.

The Story:

Our Guide - Pony Zion

the life narrative of the founder and principal agent in the creation and legacy of the House of Zion namely Devon Webster also known as Icon Pony Zion.

Devon "Pony" Webster

Born and raised in Harlem, "Pony" dedicated his life to dance since the age of 10. Pony began his journey by entering neighborhood talent shows and local street competitions. His passion for dance ultimately led him to nail his first music video audition for R&B recording artist “702”. Choreographer Laurie-Anne Gibson hired him and Pony 's career took off.

He has choreographed for multi platinum R&B recording artist Ashanti, L'il Mo, Shaggy, the late hip hop star, Big Pun, Remy Ma, and the biggest selling female recording artist of all time, Mariah Carey.

Pony is a master in the Art of “Vogue” and an icon in the underground “Ballroom” community where Voguing was created.

Pony has always taken vogue to the next level. Redefining the artform, Pony appeared in a global Coca Cola Zero commercial campaign.

Pony created the first Vogue Dance Company “Vogue Evolution”, whose mission was to match social justice and HIV Prevention through the art of vogue. Vogue Evolution was featured on Season 4 of MTV's Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew. After nearly making it to the finals on America’s Best Dance Crew, Vogue Evolution became a global sensation introducing the art of Vogue to the mainstream.

The Journey

This story explores the similar and unique systemic oppressions out of which the House of Zion emerged both in New York City and in Brasil

Explore the role of art and culture as forms of liberation and acts of resistance against the oppressive contexts and systems in which black queer bodies find themselves. Specifically showcasing the underground emerging art activist scene with which Pony came into contact with during his 2016 São Paulo residency

Amem is a collective formed by 8 independent black lgbtqia+ artists who use the party as a main platform to promote art, performances, panels, meetings, and ballrooms. This communal space which brings together artists, activists, intellectuals, archivists and cultural producers, is a free and safe space of expression, in order to rethink, interrogate, and re-imagine our practices and experiences through what we have coined radical affections. Affections is an umbrella term for Amem activism which centers debates around race, class, gender, sexuality, public health and HIV/AIDS crises.

Explore the roles of technology like television and the internet in the diffusion of culture and map that transference back onto how blackness survived and mutated and thrived throughout the African diaspora

The Goal

To honor and celebrate how black bodies and beings survive, resist, and reimagine in real-time their own phenomenal and dimensional overcoming and in our telling the stories of our living legends, share them with the world and give them their roses now

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