Film Review: Kiki (dir. Sara Jordenö)
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
Originally published at SameSame on 13 June, 2016.
I am sitting down to write this review of Kiki less than 24 hours after hearing of the devastating Orlando massacre in which some 50 people were killed at a gay nightclub during pride month. I saw Sara Jordenö’s film days ago, but it is now as I sit here and contemplate putting my thoughts about it into structured sentences and paragraphs while my social media swirls with anger and sadness at the crimes in Florida that its themes truly take on greater meaning.
For you see, Kiki is a film about the necessity for community among those who identify as LGBTQ and how doing so allows us to feel whole in a world that so frequently wants us to be empty. It is a film that tells the story of so many young LGBTQ people and their need to find a home amid a world that routinely disrespects, insults, assaults, and belittles them for wanting to be nothing more than themselves.
I know using a tragedy such as this when talking about a film can sometimes come off as odious, but it’s impossible to watch this vibrantly made documentary and not think of the history of queer identity that came before. Generations of men and women who were unable to live their lives—and those who still can’t or don’t—to even the slightest degree as these people who put everything on the line for their self-respect. It’s flat out miraculous that the subjects of this film are as confident and as brave and as commanding as they are considering they have to deal with homophobia, transphobia, and—perhaps even most pervasive of all—racism. But confident and brave is exactly what they are thanks to the way this “kiki scene” has been used to inspire young queer minds to confront what it means to be LGBT.
Kiki will no doubt be compared to Jennie Livingston’s 1990 classic Paris is Burning. And while it’s true that both films cover the NYC ball scene of extravagant and flamboyant pageants and dances of outrageous costumes and striking dance moves, giving face and serving realness, held in community halls for pocket money prizes and trophies, Kiki assumes that its audience is already quite fluent in this world and so chooses to focus just as much on broader issues relating to its subjects (of which there are many). We follow some as they venture to Washington DC for a luncheon with President Obama, while others share the histories of their gender transitions. We meet family members of some and hear the stories that most LGBT people only ever tell their closest confidents.
Filmed over four years and soundtracked by Kween Beat’s thumping music, Kiki takes the baton of Paris is Burning and brings it into a modern context that is readier and more willing to not just gawk at this world, but to engage with it.
As I sit here writing about this movie, I still can’t help but get emotional. Thinking about this film is not only making me prouder of being a member of the LGBTQ community, but saddened that there are now 50 fewer of us, taken away in the blink of an eye, whose talents and passions and spirit and energy we will never get to know or experience. Kiki is a film that celebrates some of the bravest members of the LGTBQ universe and in many ways the film demands that we absolutely must continue to be as bold and brave as them. There will be many who try to tear us down, but if we learn anything from Kiki (and not just killer choreography for Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U”), it is that we are all in this together and we owe it to ourselves to be who we are in the face of everything that world throws at us. If we don’t, then what’s the point?