Tough delivery, sparkling personality and kaleidoscopic perspectives form the soul of D. Smith’s dashing documentary Kokomo City, which follows four New Yorkers The experiences of black transgender female sex workers in New York and Atlanta. The key players—Daniella Carter, Dominique Silver, Koko Da Doll, and Liyah Mitchell—are a dynamic group, and the diversity of their testimonies propels this worthy project into refreshing, uninhibited territory.
From its opening moments, Kokomo City sets itself apart from other documentaries – both its predecessor and the most obvious point of comparison , Paris Is Burning. Sitting in her bedroom, her hair wrapped in a silk scarf, rather than expository voiceovers or established montages, Mitchell tells us of a near-fatal encounter with a client. The story begins on a sober note, becoming more frivolous as Mitchell delves into the details of each scene: the client walking into her apartment, her split-second decision to steal his gun, the ensuing altercation in the hallway.
Bottom Line Inspirational and uninhibited.
Place : Berlin Film Festival (Panorama) Director: D. Smith 1 hour13 Minutes
When Mitch Her hands, adorned with long acrylic nails, were brought to life when she recalled the moment she realized she was no longer in danger. She delivers new details at a faster pace. Roni Pillischer’s sound effects and Stacy Barthe’s funk supervisor enhanced certain points, such as the clatter of empty barrels or the sound of shattering glass. Reenactments of events flash across the screen to grab our attention. You wonder: what might happen next? Well, as she said, Mitchell went back to the client, got back in touch and got the job done.
Smith’s documentary is filled with such understated humor and editorial intelligence. Mitchell’s fear when she saw a client’s gun was real: Trans women, especially those in sex work, were wantonly abused and killed. We live in a time of unprecedented physical, psychological and legislative violence against trans people, especially trans youth. Dozens of bills attempt to limit or criminalize Transgender health visits have been introduced in states. In a world that codes your existence as a threat, jokes and jokes can soften a harsh experience. Smith has adjusted her film accordingly, tinkering with sound effects, eclectic score and low camera angles to reflect this duality of trans life.
The City of Kokomo
is a testament to the resilience of Smith and her participants. It’s a testament to how they cultivate beauty and softness in a cruel and unforgiving world. The filmmaker, a Grammy-winning producer, struggles to meet her basic needs after her transformation. Colleagues stopped calling and job opportunities dried up. Smith began to run out of money and couldn’t find a place to live. Even this documentary tested her resolve, as she approached various directors for her film and was turned down. With no other options, she decided to do it herself: She bought a camera and started recording.
Smith conducts feature interviews in her participants’ homes or cars, private spaces that allow for the safety and freedom to embrace vulnerability. Her camera doubles as a witness and an invitation to a deeper story. The testimonies gathered paint a multidimensional portrait of what it means to be a black trans woman in the contemporary era, adding to the original perspective of Kokomo City. Mitchell, Carter, Silver, and Koko Da Doll tell us about their introduction to sex work, an attempt to reconcile existential demands with the risks of the work, to offer their truest selves, and to express their diverse relationships with black cis people.
It is the latter that Smith’s documentary is most interested in, stepping into relatively unknown territory with grace and courage. Mitchell, Carter, Silver and Koko Da Doll spoke candidly about how their clients, often black men, pursued them privately while publicly defaming them. They expressed a range of emotions—disappointment, empathy, anger—at the entrenched sexual and gender conservatism that runs through the black community. Smith’s editing highlights the women’s dissent, conjuring the rhythm of conversation between them, as if they were in the same room.
Outside of hardcore women in Kokomo City, Smith talks to black men about dating trans women and their perceptions of gender norm rigidity. The conversations are insightful and sometimes difficult to find a comfortable home in the project. When Mitchell, Carter, Silver, and Koko Da Doll aren’t on screen, you may find yourself missing them, or wishing for a stronger bond between the two sets.
Kokomo City Hotlines emerge as women share their struggles with family rejection, male sexual anxiety and the threat of a world of revenge Experience the gender binary. Violence—whether real or intended—is the most obvious thematic thread, but the competition for space and attention is the beauty. Smith rounds the edges of Kokomo City by bathing in these women’s bodies. The camera roams from the top of their heads to their toes, lingers over their chests and buttocks, absorbing the details of the revolt.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama) Publisher: Magnolia Pictures Production Company: Couch Potato Pictures , Madison Square Films Director: D. Smith Producers: D. Smith, Harris Doran, Bill Butler Executive Producers: Stacy Barthe, William Melillo Cinematographer: D. Smith Editor: D . SmithMUSIC SUPERVISION: Stacy Barthe 1 hour13 minute
Sign up for THR News delivered directly to your inbox daily
11 Subscribe Register