KIKI : a documentary


By Katie McCluer

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Photo Credit: IFC Films

Throughout history, the LGBTQ scene has made a home for itself in New York City, with or without acceptance from the public. More recently, that home has taken shape in the Kiki scene; a group of houses that compete regularly in the Kiki ball, where they dress in drag for a dance competition. Sara Jordenö brings Kiki into the public eye with her documentary film on the resilience of the young people within the scene. The movie showed at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive in the African Film Festival on the night of April 27th, 2017.

The festival is a myriad of different genres and themes. “We try to show all different modes of filmmaking, by established filmmakers as well as emerging filmmakers. We’ve always tried to do that every year,” says Kathy Geritz, curator for the Pacific Film Archive. Geritz chooses films that represent a multitude of perspectives. “Something like ‘Martha and Nikki’ or ‘Kiki,’ they’re amazing for their profiles of young people, whereas something like ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ or ‘A Chadian Tragedy’ are portraits that enrich our knowledge and show the depth of difficult experience that Africans and African Americans have, so they bring about different experiences,” says Geritz.

The film focuses on how Kiki gives LGBTQ youth not only refuge from disapproving parents but also support and acceptance from their found family within the scene. Concentrating on LGBTQ youth of color, the film covers a multitude of topics, from the dance competitions to the political dimension of being LGBTQ. Dedicated to her cause, Jordenö spent five years with the people in the film, catching beautiful images of their daily lives and candid interviews with their family members; recounting their reactions to their sons coming out as gay or trans.

During her five years with the prominent members of the Kiki scene, Obama was re-elected into office and gay marriage became legal for all same sex couples, regardless of the state they live in. Given the current political climate, this feels bittersweet, but in an appearance after the film, Jordenö reassured the audience that the advocates have not been discouraged. The members of Kiki are shown fighting for their cause in Washington DC, giving a more well-rounded view of their lives. Kiki might be taken lightly if Jordenö showed only dancing scenes.

Jordenö makes insightful choices about which footage to include; the film covers the spectrum of hardships the LGBTQ community faces; including HIV, homelessness, disrespect from the police, disrespect from their families, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation. In a particularly engaging moment, a trans woman speaks openly about how easy it can be to turn to sex work when you can’t find any other job because of discrimination.

Many depictions of queer communities either do not include people of color, or don’t put emphasis on this underrepresented group that is working for social justice. Jordenö pays particular attention to LGBTQ people of color; making the film fresh and relevant.

Aesthetically speaking, the film is gorgeous. Still shots and close ups of faces make it intimate, and awe-inspiring dance shots grace the scene with the backdrop of New York City as a curtain.

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Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA   Photo Credit: Katie McCluer

The stories and struggles of the Kiki participants have a profound impact on the viewer. By the end of the movie, someone watching feels as though they know the members of Kiki personally. The film is politically relevant, raw, emotional, and picturesque. These things combined make it a significant portrait of the LGTBQ community, unlike any other of its kind. “Kiki” can be rented online for $6.99, or owned for $12.99 at

Starting April 6th, alongside the African Film Festival, the archive will also be a venue for the San Francisco Film Festival. Coming up in June, July, and August, there will be “a series of films about authors and books with the Bay Area Book Festival,” “a series on Toshiro Mifune, a famous Japanese actor,” “a series of films from the 40s and 50s based on women crime writers,” and “a series of fun summer films.” Films cost $8 for students and are located at The Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, CA, 94720.


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