Trans director D. Smith on how losing everything inspired her new documentary Kokomo City

GCN spoke to Grammy Award-winning creative D. Smith ahead of the Irish Premiere of her new documentary on Black trans sex workers, Kokomo City.

Kokomo City promotional image. It shows a woman in black and white smiling, leaning on a bed, wearing a dress and high heels.
Image: Magnolia Pictures

On Friday, August 4, the Irish Film Institute is hosting the nationwide premiere of the groundbreaking documentary Kokomo City. The screenings, taking place twice daily until August 10, are running in partnership with GAZE, and are expected to be a hit among Irish viewers as they have been across the globe, winning Audience Awards at both the Sundance and Berlinale film festivals.

The film is provocative and raw, presenting the stories of four incredibly charismatic Black transgender sex workers in New York and Georgia. Shot in black and white, the documentary is deeply compassionate and at times sobering, also offering witty examinations of race, capitalism and gender.

Ahead of its Irish release, GCN sat down with the director, D. Smith, to learn more about her life and the process of creating Kokomo City. A two-time Grammy Award-winning producer, singer and songwriter, she knows first-hand what it means to lose everything as a trans person after coming out.

“I was producing music for maybe 15 years plus and produced for everyone from Little Wayne to Katy Perry to Keri Hilson, worked with Timberland and Mark Ronson,” she explained.

“I had a pretty good career going, and in 2014 I decided that I wanted to transition, and once I did that, things kind of really went way left and really went quiet, and I stopped working due to my identity and a lot of my opportunities and partnerships just kind of dispersed.”

D. Smith admitted to being in denial for quite a while about the reality of her situation and explained: “A Black producer had never changed their gender or identity in the music industry. People just literally didn’t know what to do.”

She continued: “It was a very real thing that I had to accept, that being transgender is going to separate you, is going to set you apart, you’re going to be scrutinised, you’re going to be judged, you’re going to be ostracised. And it took years and years and years for me to slowly heal and gain back my confidence in knowing that I belong here.”



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It was this experience of being pushed to the outskirts that inspired her to make Kokomo City.

“The idea of doing Kokomo City came to me just in a vision, just something I thought could really be fresh and fun and an opportunity for me to really show myself as a creator,” she said.

After being cut out of the music community, sleeping on couches and not knowing where her next paycheque would come from, she explained, “I started to think, ‘God, I could see why a girl would want to do sex work’.

“And I thought, well, I can only imagine what sex workers, Black trans women that have to do sex work, what are their lives like? What is this whole experience like in this day and age through the eyes of transgender sex workers? The ones that are least heard, least protected, least respected, least visually seen, and it just hit me like, why aren’t their stories ever told?” she continued.

“I experienced a lot of what I can imagine they experience. I felt really unsafe, I felt unprotected, unseen and absolutely not worthy. I definitely felt that.”


And so, D. Smith began the process of creating the documentary, not only directing it but also filming and editing the project. She found her cast – Daniella Carter, Liyah Mitchell, Dominique Silver and the late Koko Da Doll who was tragically lost to gun violence after being interviewed.

“They’re stars – simple as that,” D. Smith said of her participants. “Trans women are so dramatic, so mysterious, so funny, so charismatic.”

She added that the most important thing was to find “dark-skinned girls” because they are the ones “being murdered the most”.

“When we hear of trans women dying, it’s always that complexion. And it was important that they have the opportunity to speak their minds.”

D. Smith further explained: “After meeting these girls, they really inspired me. Just the sense of duality that they have to just make it through this world is just jaw-dropping, and I just really respect and appreciate them for being a part of Kokomo City.”

Speaking about the reception the film has received so far, and in anticipation of the Irish premiere, the director expressed her thanks to everyone for their support, adding, “You have no idea how impactful your interactions and your engagement has been for me and for the girls”.

“I’m excited to continue to bring stories and fresh takes on topics that we talk about so often, and this is a very exciting time for queer people and transgender people because the doors are opening and opportunity is flooding for us to thrive.”

Don’t miss out on the Irish premiere of Kokomo City in the IFI from August 4-10. Secure your seat here!

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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