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Thread: KOKOMO CITY (D. Smith 2023)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    KOKOMO CITY (D. Smith 2023)

    D. SMITH: KOKOMO CITY (2023)

    A shocking quick look at black trans prostitutes, an endangered species

    This short documentary, in stylish, heavily -edited and formatted black and white, is initially engaging, or if you like titillatingly off-putting, with its gutter language and sex talk, as the four black trans prostitutes talk about themselves. And with exceptional boldness and eloquence. These are not shrinking violets. But , while acknowledging that the filmmaker is herself a trans person, sympathy and good access aren't everything. One has to ask for more than initial shock value, frank talk, and cool visuals. (D. Smith has a background in music video.)

    I have to agree with Slant's Diego Semerene that the talk "never quite catches up to the euphoria of the visuals." Knowlegeablely if somewhat confusingly, the Slant writer characterizes this film as stylistically lodged "somewhere between the cheekiness of Madonna: Truth or Dare, Bruce Weber’s bewitching study of Chet Baker, Let’s Get Lost, and the vacuous breakneck rhythm of a VH1 documentary."

    The four talk about what they do, why they do it, their commitment to it (all in, but not forever). These "testimonials" (Slant again) are "purposefully chaotic." (That is, the ladies, Dominique Silver, Liyah Mitchell, Daniella Carter and Koko Da Doll, are allowed free rain to talk about themselves. This gives rise to the realization that the speakers are all posed for the camera as on a bed or sofa, often from provocative or extreme angles. They are objectified. If one wanted to learn about them in depth, one would need to get away from the posing and just talk and listen. There is something both chic and exploitative about this film. It's almost more like a calling card for its director and crew than detailed reporting. Nonetheless, Dominique Silver, D Smith, Daniella Carter and Koko Da Doll are eloquent and articulate.

    It's been complained that there isn't enough about. the "johns," the men who patronize the four trans "girls." But this is not my criticism. They are not the subject, here. We hear some, and that little is very suggestive. One gathers that somehow their trans whores serve these men by providing an intimacy away from usual stereotypes; otherwise, it's just a "thing," and you can't explain why someone likes the odd flavor.

    Some things were new and particular here: the details about surgery, how a certain amount of it is necessary to attract the johns, or to their own self-confidence; how some of them go into "working" to earn the price of it. The comments about femininity and attractiveness are interesting but familiar to us - from everywhere else. I was touched by the person who spoke forcefully about how wrong it is to question who you are; who pointed out that she was this way from the beginning. It's not like you have a choice; it's just a question of how fully you can realize a dream that is also one's essential sense of self. The shortcoming, which relates to the prettifying of the images, is the failure to provide full background on the danger. Trans people are in danger. Trams black women are in terrific danger. Trans black women who work as prostitutes are in near-fatal danger. They are dying out all the time. Nothing more clearly illustrates this than the notification at the end that one of the four, Koko Da Doll, has since been killed; this occurred after the Sundance debut of the film. This is what needs to be talked about.

    Watch this if the subject interests you, but do so with a lot of caution and reserve. It is a limited, cosmeticized picture.

    Kokomo City, 73 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 21, 2023, subsequently shown at Berlin, Thessaloniki, Austin, and many others, particular with an LGBTQ+ or documentary focus. Metacritic rating: 78%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-03-2023 at 01:25 PM.


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