Kokomo City  (18) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. D. Smith, US, 2023, 73 mins

Cast:  Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, Dominique Silver

Review by Carol Allen

Kokomo City is a documentary from first time film maker, singer and songwriter D. Smith.  The title appears to be a metaphor for love, taken from the Beach Boys 1988 hit song Kokomo, as her subject matter is the lives of four black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City.

Ms Smith, who is like her interviewees black and transgender, demonstrates both bravery and great commitment in making this film – she wrote, directed and filmed it herself in a crisp and very professional looking black and white.  Her avowed aim is “to support these women in exploring the dichotomy between the black community and themselves”.  As a heterosexual, white woman, I’m not in a position to say whether or not it does that but disappointingly it doesn’t really throw a lot of light on the situation for those outside the LGBTQ community either.  While the strong language and the fact that the women in question are not only transgender but also  “working girls” or hookers, who are very explicit about the sexual services they provide, is also likely to put some audiences off.

Most, though not all, of the women are strikingly beautiful, usually very tall.  One  of them with luscious long hair and startlingly long fingernails is particularly striking.  Their strong accents and black argot don’t assist with comprehension or indeed identifying the participants by name but what does come over is the unhappiness they feel with their lives.

Tales of miserable, deprived childhoods, victims of male violence and one particularly touching statement from a woman who wants to get out of the game and, as she puts it, “fulfil her potential”.  The exception to the rule of misery is one  woman, who appears to a very happy relationship with her male partner.

 As for the other men that Ms Smith spoke to, I presume they were clients but because of their mode of speech, I have little idea of what they said.  One might deduce however from previous knowledge of how black males view masculinity within their community that these interviewees probably aren’t ecstatic about black transgenderism.  But unlike the recent British film Pretty Red Dress, which explored attitudes in London’s black community towards  transvestism, the film fails to shed much light on how transgender women are viewed in the wider black community.

There is some confusion over the term “transgender” in the wider world, particularly with regard to women.  Does it mean someone who has had surgery and now complies with the accepted biological  norm for the gender she believes she should be or does it mean someone who is living the gender to which she feels she belongs but still retains her original male biological bits?

Which makes the final image not only a striking one, which in a way sums up the film, but also a disturbing one.   A  tall woman proudly displays her beautiful feminine body complete with its untouched male genitalia.   It’s the sort of image likely to really upset those, who worry about transgender women accessing women only spaces.