Review: Kokomo City

Kokomo City is a dramatic debut documentary by black trans filmmaker and singer songwriter D. Smith, about the intersectionality of transphobia, racism and sexism experiences of black trans sex workers, coming out just after the tragic murder of one of the stars Koko Da Doll in April.

The film is artistically shot in black and white with Headline-like yellow titling giving a very gritty nostalgic look and really lends to the story telling of lives on black trans women in sex work.

Smith took a point of view approach, bought herself a camera and devoted three years to making the film, while crashing on friends’ couches. 

“Don’t worry about calling your glam squad today,” she said.  “Just tell your story.”  And what stories!  Holding nothing back, the film vibrates with energy, from the opening anecdote (involving a man, a misunderstanding and a make-up) to the last frame (no spoiler).  The women talk openly about everything from body parts, to sex and survival. Also on camera are a few cis men who tell why they are trans-attracted.

As a singer/songwriter/producer, Smith has worked with Lil Wayne, Billy Porter, Katy Perry et al.  But there was a time, after she transitioned, when the music industry stopped calling.  Eventually broke and homeless, Smith came up with the idea for this film, only to have five directors turn her down. 

Given Smith’s music creds, it’s not surprising that the film is filled with a range of songs, including Randy Crawford’s “Street Life,” which plays over the opening credits, and the incredible “Sissy Man Blues,” written almost 90 years ago by Kokomo Arnold from whose name inspired the title.

The film won the NEXT Innovator Award and the NEXT Audience Award at Sundance 2023, plus the Audience Award in the Panorama Documentary section at Berlin 2023.

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