Is Birds of Paradise Based on a True Story?

‘Birds of Paradise’ chronicles the lives of two talented dancers who battle it out for the ultimate prize at their Parisian ballet academy — a contract with the Paris Opera Ballet. However, through their arduous training and quest for victory, the two become close confidants who are constantly pulled apart by their need to beat the other in order to win. The layered narrative explores the nuances of friendship and betrayal and paints a sensual picture of gray morality that seems exaggerated yet truthful. So, just how much of ‘Birds of Paradise,’ if any, is based on a true story? Let’s find out!

Is Birds of Paradise a True Story?

No, ‘Birds of Paradise’ is not based on a true story. The film is based on the 2019 novel ‘Bright Burning Stars’ by A.K. Small and was subsequently rewritten for screen by the film’s writer and director, Sarah Adina Smith. Despite the book and the subsequent film being a work of fiction, a part of its inspiration can be observed in the author’s past. Born in Paris (where both novel and film are set), Small began studying dance at a young age and went on to study and perform classical dance, including ballet, in France and the United States.

Taking the novel as a starting point, Smith then imbibed her own ideas into the narrative to create what would eventually become ‘Birds of Paradise.’ After her first read-through of the novel, the writer-director already had a good idea of the kind of story she wanted to tell. It gave her the platform to explore her ideas, and Smith describes her film as a messy love story about friendship, obsession, and betrayal. Despite the heavy focus on the daunting task of becoming a professional ballerina, she did not want to take away from the human aspect of the film and the many layers and nuances that came with it.

Fortunately, Smith also had the blessing of the original novel’s author, who approved the changes to the story. The entire aspect of the “Jungle,” a psychedelic underground club that the ballet students visit, was not part of the original story. The club becomes a symbol of the wild, creative nature of the students, and which eventually becomes a source of freedom for Marine, one of the two central characters. The concept was brought into the film by Smith to contrast the sterile and traditional environment of the ballet academy.

The lead roles of Kate and Marine were also specifically written for actresses Diana Silvers and Kristine Frøseth, who essay the characters respectively and came attached with the book for the project. Smith detailed the nuances of the characters in consultation with the actresses, giving the physically and emotionally daunting roles an even higher level of authenticity. The film’s music, too, was painstakingly curated and has been described by Smith as being almost as important as the dialogue, if not more.

‘Birds of Paradise’ is a film that draws on some real-life authenticity about the difficult nature of professional ballet but also follows a sensual and emotional tale that is exaggerated in all the right places to be entertaining yet moving. The film’s writer and director claimed that her goal was to make a film that is “delicious” and fun to watch — like an indulgent treat, and it seems like she has achieved her goal and crafted a worthy and flavorsome French delicacy.

Read More: Where Was Birds of Paradise Filmed?