Talk To Me: Our Review of ‘Kokomo City’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 28, 2023
Talk To Me: Our Review of ‘Kokomo City’

Asking what comprises a community is hard enough of a question, but that question becomes more complex yet rewarding in D. Smith’s Kokomo City, which is about certain sections of the Black trans communities in three Eastern American cities. This 70 minute documentary has time to talk to cis men whose feelings for trans women are more complex than what most people assume when observing client-sex worker relations. There are also cut scenes with dance sequences that express the mindset of these men as they do women. Showing a Black man do contemporary ballet feels revolutionary somehow.

Those scenes aside, Kokomo City‘s main focus is on four Black transwomen who talk about everything. One of these main topics is the procedures they need to care for their bodies. They also discuss sex work, which is one of the only entry level industries that can help these women afford such procedures. These procedures require physical healing too. But after that process, they have to come out onto a world that wants to hurt them and that doesn’t know how to love them. Both they and the men discuss that too because yes, sex work is work, but work sucks.

Kokomo City shoots its interviewees in gorgeous Black and white cinematography. The camera shakes just the right amount to give the documentary that authentic feel. It’s at pace with these women when they need to move around. Most of the time, though, it captures them chilling in their bedrooms. And they talk the way neighbours do when neighbours get deeper than your average ‘hi’. Intertitles gives names to faces and bring the right amount of levity. “Lord, I woke up this morning,” should be just as much of a catchphrase as “I woke up like this”.

But after Kokomo City makes us smile at the way these interviewees can laugh about their hardships, it reminds its viewers how Black transwomen have it harder. The documentary makes those hardships relatable. One of these women, Koko the Doll, talks about the things she has to do and learn as an adult, which yes, most cis adults have to learn similar things. But that education is more difficult to obtain because she doesn’t have the social net that cis people have. That jobs are harder to get, ‘legal’ ones, without higher education that she can’t access.

“I have a great personality,” says another interviewee, Liyah Mitchell. Most people have great personalities, but her having to say this is indicative of the circles she’s in. Ones that treat her like a sex object. It’s obvious that Liyah and the other women are smart, gaining that intelligence from a rough life that treats them as outsiders. Their words make for great additions to the observations from other trans docs like Paris is Burning and Disclosure. Those docs speak of the world as it is but this one lets us dig deeper.

Kokomo City comes out in select Canadian theatres.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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