The prospect of a documentary elucidating the perspective of Black transgender sex workers may initially elicit prophesying visions of a bleak abyss of dejection and regret. But this doc’s debut director is not interested in kitchen sink despair. Instead, D Smith, a Black trans woman herself, imbues Kokomo City with an affection for the community, in turn giving it a vibrant voice of its own.
Shot in dusty monochrome hues, which call to mind the grounded urbanity of Spike Lee’s debut, She’s Gotta Have It, Kokomo City investigates the experiences of four Black transgender sex workers from Georgia and New York, as well as those of a smattering of trans-attracted men. Through a series of interviews with her subjects, Smith lifts the lid on experiences often shunned or misrepresented with a magnetic vigour. The participants gladly snatch the agency afforded to them by Smith to voice the reality, including the fierce dangers, of their environment, but also their judgements on the complex intersection of their line of work and gender and racial identity.
Having received numerous rejections from established filmmakers whose services Smith sought out, she decided to take on all creative functions herself: director, editor and cinematographer were all rolled into one for this bold roll of the dice, which Smith hoped would regenerate the carcass of a music career left for dead in the wake of her frankness about her identity. In this regard, Kokomo City is DIY filmmaking in the purest sense: raw, frayed and true. Simultaneously, however, Smith’s voice is distinct, with an undercurrent of tenderness, which draws you into her world and its personalities, however unfamiliar they may be to most viewers.
It’s also an amalgamation of these circumstances that leads to Kokomo City’s slender, trimmed-down focus. At 73 minutes, Smith works impressively efficiently to get under the skin of not just her subjects, but the film’s ideas. After all, a filmmaker who mistakes the sound of a door closing with that of its hinges being blown off is one of sturdy stock.
Kokomo City is released in select cinemas on 4th August 2023.
Watch the trailer for Kokomo City here: