Kokomo City (2023) Movie Review – An intimate exploration into the lives of four black transgender women

An intimate exploration into the lives of four black transgender women

Kokomo City is an American documentary film that depicts the story of four black transgender women. The film premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and garnered two awards there. Kokomo City is a depiction of the dichotomy in our society regarding black people, sex workers, the LGBTQIA+ community, etc.

In the documentary, the main characters – Daniella Carter, Dominique Silver, Koko Da Doll, and Liyah Mitchell – open up about their own journeys without holding back. The script delves into the world of these four working as sex workers in the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and New York.

Their personal stories unfold through interviews and re-enactments, giving us an intimate look into their lives. Along the way, we also get glimpses of what random black men in those areas think about the transgender community.

The first-time director, D. Smith, opted for a classic touch in their documentary – a black and white presentation that runs for about an hour and thirteen minutes. This choice isn’t arbitrary; it adds depth to the storytelling. Think of it as a reflection of the simplicity and troubles of their lives and how society sees them – all in shades of gray.

The documentary’s style is a blend of the tried-and-true classic approach with a contemporary twist. Not to be overlooked is the significance of the background music – it’s not just there for background noise. The music plays a pivotal role in sweetening the overall narrative.

Towards the end, there’s a powerful line in the lyrics that go, “…from raising someone else’s child and mine been sold away; the husband you are laying with come night still raping me; you know the truth, it bothers you; you act like you don’t see; who gon listen to a little ol’ me.” That line pretty much encapsulates the whole issue. These lyrics serve as a wake-up call for society. They’re raw and real and might be a bit hard to swallow for those with more traditional views.

Now, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of the documentary, especially the happenings in “Kokomo City” that demand our attention. Liyah Mitchell shares an incident where she had to wrestle with a client over a gun. She recalls that during their session, she noticed the guy carrying a pistol in his pocket.

Liyah panicks, and a scuffle ensues as she tries to grab the weapon, turning the whole encounter into an awkward and embarrassing ordeal for both of them. Then, there’s another jaw-dropping story involving one of the four main characters. After reaching the peak of pleasure, someone actually tries to sexually assault her Liyah.

She doesn’t let the guy in on her true gender identity. So, when he finds out he has been intimate with someone who was born with male genitals, he freaks out, thinking it means he’d crossed into “gay” territory. The client saw it as cheating and ignorance. As Liyah puts it, “…a lot of us are way more women than a lot of cis women.”

In their line of work, it’s not just about the surprises in the bedroom, as they face some tough situations – from dealing with HIV risks to the struggles of body hair removal and even the terrifying reality of clients resorting to violence with weapons. 

The documentary states that a lot of men struggle with embracing their sexual preferences in society. They think that their choices somehow challenge traditional masculinity, so they end up not fully accepting themselves. Interestingly, these same men often turn to trans women to satisfy their desires. 

Now, here’s another risk in this line of work. Some clients worry about their secrets getting out, so there’s this risk of blackmail hanging over them. It’s a tricky situation, and sometimes trans sex workers don’t handle it the best way. 

The issue goes beyond just society and a handful of guys; even their own families aren’t giving them the support they need. Shockingly, some parents have even kicked out their own kids just because of their gender identity.

In addition, it’s not only a problem in far-off places – it’s still happening in so-called advanced countries too. Of course, there are some exceptions, like that Black man who thinks trans women, too, are incredibly attractive.

With all the societal no-nos around LGBTQIA+ issues, racial differences, and the unfair preference for men, life feels like a constant struggle for the four characters seen in the film. But despite all that, they’re pushing through, holding onto their own identity. This documentary is like a doorway into a whole different world than our own. It’s a must-watch on streaming platforms.

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  • Verdict - 6/10

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