D. Smith emerged as an up-and-coming producer, working with several celebrities and eventually earning Grammy nominations. This fame and potential quickly unraveled, however, after Smith came out as a trans woman, and was shunned by the community she had long worked with. Unhoused and dealing with the emotional fallout, she turned her career around as a producer in her directorial debut “Kokomo City.”
Shot in stunning black and white, “Kokomo City” explores the lives and recollections of four Black trans sex workers — Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver — and their experiences in stunningly candid interviews. As the women share anecdotes about their past and present, they reveal the intersections of their identities and the dichotomies they present between them and the varied communities they are part of.
“Kokomo City” is a groundbreaking documentary that takes a raw and beautiful look at the intersection of Blackness and queerness through four women. It stands as a landmark for trans representation on screen, offering a profound testament to the existence of the Black trans community and its experiences.
The film delves into the lives of these women, who have experienced ostracization and discrimination from the communities they belong to. In interviews, they dissect the layers of discrimination they have experienced, whether it’s being kicked out by their families or analyzing the responses of some Black women to their lived experiences. Black womanhood rightfully belongs to them too, despite the negative reactions of some.
As “Kokomo City” unfolds, it doesn’t shy away from addressing the harsh realities these women face, especially in the context of increasing discrimination and transphobic violence across the nation. The documentary touches on various aspects of their lives, almost immediately diving into the complexities of sex work. Through their personal stories about their time in sex work “Kokomo City” delves into the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry.
The four women share their experiences with exploitation and violence, recounting experiences with men who seek them out for fetishistic purposes and others who resort to violence after learning they are trans — after having sex. This unfiltered look at sex work emphasizes that it’s not merely a way to make money, but an often dangerous and predatory line of work that puts people at risk for physical and emotional harm. With the rise of platforms such as OnlyFans that limit some risk in sex work, the documentary serves as a wake-up call to the dangers faced by sex workers, especially those in marginalized communities.
What sets the documentary apart is its refreshing down-to-earth approach. Rather than focusing solely on exceptional stories, it portrays the women in their everyday lives, having candid discussions in bathtubs and restaurants. This decision to capture their authentic selves underscores the message that these women don’t need to be perfect for their stories to be told, and that their existence alone is worth exploration. The authenticity serves as a powerful reminder of the diverse experiences within marginalized communities.
Moreover, “Kokomo City” goes beyond being a documentary about identity and sex work. It paints a humanizing portrait of the four women, showcasing their unique perspectives, personalities and strength in the face of adversity. It humanizes their experiences, reminding the audience they are not just labels or statistics; they are individuals with hopes, dreams and struggles. “Kokomo City” challenges viewers to confront the complexities of identity and intersectionality while shedding light on the lived experiences of Black trans women.
Tragically, the impact of this documentary is heightened by the loss of Koko Da Doll, one of the interviewees, who was fatally shot earlier this year. Her untimely death serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for increased awareness and empathy for the Black trans community, which is at a disproportionately high risk for having victims of violence.
“Kokomo City” emerges as a stunning directorial debut that is brimming with authenticity and passion. Especially amid the current climate, the documentary is an absolute standout and is a testament to the reality of some of society’s most vulnerable members.