Thursday, March 9, 2017

LGBTQ kids of color find a home

Kiki, a documentary that visits the ballroom scene in Harlem's gay and transgender community, has been called an heir to the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, which explored the drag-ball scene in Harlem in the 1980s. Some 27 years later, Kiki immerses us in what's called the New York City House Scene, a loose collection of organizations that provide community for gay and transsexual young people of color and emphasize dance competitions. The Houses become an outlet for marginalized people, some rejected by their families, some unable to find jobs, some who have taken up sex work and some who have been subjected to brutalities of the streets. As Swedish director Sara Jordeno explores the various activities leading to competitions (disciplined rehearsing among them) she also listens to the stories of young people struggling to express their own realities. The film tries to give a rounded picture of the participants in various "balls." At one point, we meet a loving mother who has accepted her son, although her husband couldn't. Jordeno allows her camera to linger on close-ups of the faces of these young people. It's as if she's asking us to study them, to see past the surface. Many of those interviewed share stories that speak to growing up in environments where acceptance may have been difficult to find. That background explains why the Houses and balls matter: They serve as an outlet for creativity and pain, yes, but also as safe spaces. Given the current emphasis on the rights of transgender people, Kiki -- filmed over a two-year period -- probably acquires additional importance. Skipping orientation and outside commentary, Jordeno jumps into a scene that provides more than a place for highly stylized Vogue dancing and outre costumes. To those in it, it's also a home.

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