‘Kokomo City’ Movie Review: A Powerful Look Into The Lives Of Transgender Sex Workers

D Smith's debut film shows she is a force in cinema.

"Kokomo City" is a poignant and eye-opening documentary directed by first-time filmmaker D Smith. The movie unapologetically shines a spotlight on the lives of transgender sex workers, offering a raw and unfiltered look into their struggles and triumphs. This courageous and compelling film humanizes their experiences and challenges societal prejudices.

D Smith, a Grammy nominee who got her start in entertainment via the music industry, tackles these complicated stories with compassion and respect. Instead of sensationalizing the subjects' lives, the documentary allows their voices to take center stage. The film serves as a platform for them to share their personal stories, dreams, and aspirations, giving them the agency to define their identities beyond stereotypical narratives. Additionally, the doc dives into men who are attracted to transgender women, a topic that has rarely been explored in mainstream media.

While Smith covers an issue that can be deeply sad and unpacks the circumstances that pushes someone into sex work, there is still joy in "Kokomo City," the title is based on Kokomo Arnold's 1935 song "Sissy Man Blues." 

This is not a trite story of woe-is-me Black transgender women. In Smith’s doc, we see their laughter and sense of humor. There is a  strength you cannot help but admire and solidarity that highlights resilience and camaraderie. While the doc is centered on Black trans women, everyone Smith interviewed was relatable, infectious, and a joy to see on camera.

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Outside of the stories, D Smith showed she is definitely a filmmaker to watch. Her camera work tastefully navigates between intimate close-ups and the broader cityscape, immersing the audience in the environment with visuals that read like a music video. Smith’s eye clearly comes from her music background, and I am excited to see what we will see in the future from the innovative content creator.

In a time when transgender women are under legislative attack, the butt of everyone's jokes, pitted against other women to create an imaginary social media war and labeled “mentally insane, this film is significant. "Kokomo City" is a call to action for a community to be heard, hopefully resulting in more kindness to Black transgender women, especially in the Black community at large. Black transgender women are not the enemy; they -- like any other person in the Black community -- are fighting against racism, exploitation, and trying to survive. Sadly, one of the subjects in the film, Koko Da Doll, was killed in April of this year. According to NBC News, a 17-year-old has been charged with Doll's death.

While their circumstances might differ, "Kokomo City" reminds us how much we all have in common. 

"Kokomo City" is a must-watch. See the trailer below.

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