By Rachel Galvin
Liyah Mitchell in KOKOMO CITY, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Unapologetically who they are, the women and men featured in “Kokomo City” tell an intriguing story … their own. The documentary, shown in black and white, features the story of four black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City, and some others who have something to say about the issue.
In the film, the discussion covers many issues from their perspective — why someone becomes trans, what it takes to be trans, what they encounter and how far they would go to live their lives. But also it includes who is attracted to a trans woman and who is not, and talks about transphobia, as well as how they fit into the culture around them.
The life is a hard one but these women live it to the best of their ability, facing the slings and arrows of their outrageous fortune but standing against their sea of troubles one day at a time in an effort to boldly be themselves and simply to survive. They face everything from discrimination, to abuse, to downright violence. Some, like Koko Da Doll, pay the ultimate price, as she was killed by gun violence after the film was finished and it is dedicated to her.
The women discuss the types of relationships they have had as escorts and in their personal lives, as well as the type of men who are attracted to them, and how each type reacts differently. They also talked about some of the responses they get to them in public and among their families.
Presenting as women is not that easy. It requires hormones, often electrolosis, makeup, wigs, eyelashes, implants and even more extensive surgery. Each woman has to decide for themselves what is best. We get an inside look to what makes these women who they are.
The topics discussed are told in an intimate way, as if the viewer is a new friend in the living room or next to them in the car told something private in confidence. These are the types of stories many of us never get to hear. The film opens up the world of a group that is often unseen, unheard and really unknown. The frank conversations allow for a dialogue and break the stigma surrounding the word transgender in a new and groundbreaking way.
The stories are interspersed with beautifully filmed b-roll showing everything from the ordinary, like an egg being cooked, to the beautiful, like a dancer giving it his all. Showing how there is beauty in the mundane and how the lives of these people who are often discounted are not only worthy but beautiful in their own way.
Be aware that these stories are raw and real, and include graphic topics from sex to violence, and that includes plenty of profanity and also nudity.
The movie was directed by Miami native D. Smith, who is a two-time Grammy-nominated producer, singer and songwriter and also made history as the first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted TV show, and executive produced by Lena Waithe.
The film has already gotten accolades, winning the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Innovator Award and NEXT Audience Award, as well as the Berlinale’s Audience Award in the Panorama Documentary section.
It has already been seen at the Miami Film Festival and Outshine Film Festival earlier this year. Now, the Magnolia Pictures film is opening in Miami at O Cinema South Beach (1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, FL) on Friday, August 4. (NY opens on July 28. Atlanta and additional U.S. markets open also on Aug. 4). On Saturday, August 5, there will be a special post film Q&A with the director. More info. on O Cinema at o-cinema.org.