There’s a frank and flirty quality to D.Smith’s portrait of Black transgender sex workers coupled with insightful intimacy as she documents observations, gripes and concerns in this jaunty debut feature. Shot in striking monochrome, there’s defiance, vulnerability and humour as Smith, a fellow transsexual, zips between tales and snowballs a portrait of the lives of Koko Da Doll, Daniella Carter, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver.
Shot in their own homes whilst reflecting on their existence, Kokomo City is an unadulterated insight into their sassy worlds, born out of a mixture of self-actualisation clashing with the limiting necessity of survival. It also boasts a tremendous soundtrack including tracks by Smith who previously worked as a producer for the likes Lil Wayne, Katy Perry and CeeLo Green.
Koko Da Doll discusses wanting to be “stronger in my craft and master this shit.” She was fatally shot in Atlanta shortly after the premiere. As another contributor says, for most this is “survival work, it’s risky shit.”
“I created Kokomo City because I wanted to show the fun, humanized, natural side of Black trans women,” Ms. Smith told the New York Times. “I wanted to create images that didn’t show the trauma or the statistics of murder of transgender lives. I wanted to create something fresh and inspiring. I did that. We did that! But here we are again.”
Smith also gives space to an articulation of the power imbalance which lies of the heart of these transactional encounters. Most guys are in denial about their impulses which it comes to their attraction to trans and are there to “exploit and fetishise us” as one contributor notes. Epidemic-level violence constantly lurks in the shadows of the allure.
words: Michael McDermott