After Kokomo City premiered at Sundance this year, one of the film’s four sex worker subjects, Koko Da Doll, was shot and killed in April.
Her shocking death brings additional poignancy to the film’s difficult subject matter. Teenager Jemarcus Jernigen was arrested for the murder.
The documentary by D. Smith interviews four trans women of color engaging in sex work, and those who are attracted to them. Smith was a working music producer prior to her own transition, after which she lost everything. With nothing to lose, she decided to shoot a documentary.
Via Magnolia Pictures:
Smith passes the mic to four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City – Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, and Dominique Silver – who unapologetically break down the walls of their profession. Holding nothing back, the film vibrates with energy, sex, challenge, and hard-earned wisdom. This vital portrait, edited and shot by Smith in bold black and white, is her feature directorial debut. A two-time Grammy-nominated producer, singer, and songwriter, Smith made history as the first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted TV show. Executive produced by Lena Waithe, KOKOMO CITY won the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Innovator Award and NEXT Audience Award, as well as the Berlinale’s Audience Award in the Panorama Documentary section.
As I have noted in my overview of transgender sex work,
In many cultures where transgender people are treated badly, sex work and sexualized work have been among the few ways trans people could earn money. Many notable people in our community, especially trans women, did sex work at some point in their lives.
People in our community engage in survival sex are often some or all of these:
- those kicked out of their homes or runaways
- immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants
- people under the control of human traffickers (pimps)
- people who use drugs
- people who can not find other work (job insecurity / unemployment)
- people who need to eat (food insecurity)
- people who need shelter (housing insecurity or homelessness)
The stigma and shame around being attracted to trans women greatly increases the likelihood of violence. Smith chose to shoot the doc in stark black and white, and her subjects are very candid about what it’s like out there.
The candid interviews show it’s not all tragedy and sorrow. It’s a story about resilience, strength, and at times, joy and beauty. It humanizes women who are often pushed to the fringes in our racist and transphobic culture.
Images: YouTube / Magnolia Pictures