KOKOMO CITY is a beautifully photographed, deeply moving documentary about the brutal reality of being a trans sex worker in contemporary America. It is directed by trans woman D Smith who empathetically frames the real experiences of these women in all their humour, community, sorrow and violence. The trans women interviewed - Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver - are open about what the enjoy about their work, how different cis men use them and approach them, and the risks inherent in the work. So much so that poor Koko Da Doll was murdered shortly after this film debuted at Sundance earlier this year.
Documentarian D Smith also interviews some of the johns who are open about why they go for trans women. In one particular case, it feels like a badge of honour that he is "man enough" to take them on. As a result we get a really nuanced picture of contemporary gender norms and prejudices in the black community. There's also something profoundly sad about black men so trapped in expectations of being hyper-masculine that they are closeted and ashamed about their true sexual desires.
The resulting film is a really smart, insightful and eye- and heart-opening discourse on what it is to be trans, and what it means to a black men, a black woman, and successful. There is so much to mull over here. Like all the best documentaries, it gave me a new perspective and more empathy for some of the most marginalised and most at risk members of our society.
KOKOMO CITY has a running time of 73 minutes and is rated R. It played Berlin, SXSW, BFI Flare and Sundance 2023. It was released in the USA last month and in the UK this weekend.