In the short time since Trump took office, his administration has already lifted protections for trans students to use the restrooms aligning with their gender. As of today, at least seven trans people have been killed in the United States so far this year. Per usual, the murders are being pretty underreported, with people sharing the news amongst their communities on social media. LGBTQ people are still faced with barriers to housing, employment, and health care in this country, with queer people of color being disproportionately affected.
The new documentary film Kiki tells the story of those people, and the lives they lead as members of New York’s underground ballroom community. Kiki picks up over two decades after Paris Is Burning introduced mainstream audiences to the performative practice of voguing and balls. This update to the genre focuses specifically on the Kiki scene, which “was created within the LGBTQ youth-of- color community as a peer-led group offering alternative family systems (“houses”), HIV awareness teaching and testing, and performances geared towards self-agency” according to the film’s website. These performances of gender, which often include “stylized femininity,” are put on display at local balls. What separates Kiki from Paris Is Burning is that the story is finally told to the outside by those on the inside.
While the Kiki scene is absolutely an overshadowed corner of a broad and diverse LGBTQ movement, to deny it’s effects on mainstream culture would be irresponsible. Some of your favorite slang like “the gag is” and “spilling the tea” originated in these communities. If for no other reason, you should see Kiki to understand the complexity of subcultures in America and how they are extracted from consistently.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that marriage equality was not actually the end of the struggle for LGBTQ equality. As iconic as Paris Is Burning is, many people know that most of its characters have since died penniless at the hands of institutionalized homophobia. For all of its costumes and death drops, Kiki reminds viewers just how high the stakes are for those on the scene. But even as one of the groups most targeted for interpersonal and systemic violence, Black LGBTQ people can still find and harness the power of joy.
The film is out in certain theaters. Check out the trailer, below.