Kokomo City

Kokomo City is a timely and powerful documentary exploring the lives of Black trans sex workers

Film Review by Rory Doherty | 31 Jul 2023
  • Kokomo City
Film title: Kokomo City
Director: D. Smith
Starring: Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, Dominique Silver, Bebé Smith
Release date: 4 Aug
Certificate: 18

Kokomo City, a documentary built on the testimonies of Black trans sex workers, feels intimate and confessional from the opening anecdote, where Liyah, one of the central subjects, recounts an altercation with an armed client. Violence underpins these women’s lives: threats of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, but also the terrifying cost of constant societal alienation. 

But regardless of these pressures (or perhaps because of them) the women speak with a pride and confidence that moves, compels, and provokes. These trusted subjects, through necessity and experience, are the most proficient and articulate about issues of Black transness, sex work, and inequality, and director D. Smith has found a brilliant rhythm to guide us through their wisdom.

At times, her camera rests among glasses on a bar table, watching her subjects' physicality as they talk; at others, she cuts from cis men (some empathetic to trans identity, others less so) to her subjects, who wipe the floor with them with their informed, articulate perspectives. The film’s lo-fi feel is due to unfortunate circumstances, as Smith was homeless when she started the project, but the completed work has a sparky intimacy. Playful recreations, crude but pretty animations, and an eclectic soundtrack feature throughout, occasionally undermining the sheer vulnerability of the women’s testimonies.

Straightness, male shame, the hypocrisy of cis female allyship – these women have a vital vantage point on a society that values their bodies but won’t promise them safety. It’s hard to imagine a more urgent and worthy documentary out now.

Released 4 Aug by Dogwoof; certificate 18