An eye-opening documentary about New York’s underground LGBT ball culture

Sara Jordenö’s vivid documentary about New York’s underground ballroom scene glows with the heat of radical empathy. Jordenö casts her subjects – gay black and brown teens who find freedom in dance and drag – in warm reds and oranges, giving each individual their moment by fixing on their faces as they make direct eye contact with her camera.

The elephant in the room is Jennie Livingston’s 1990 vogueing documentary, Paris Is Burning, which casts a long shadow over the film. There are two main differences here: firstly, Kiki comes from the community it depicts (Twiggy Pucci Garçon, one of the film’s stars, has a co-writer credit). Secondly, while Paris Is Burning was mostly set against the backdrop of the Reagan era, Kiki takes place in Obama’s America. Inevitably, the dramatic stakes feel different; the urgency of the Aids crisis is not quite as close, though it’s noted that even today more than 50% of those making up the city’s ballroom scene are HIV positive. As one of the film’s main subjects, trans activist Gia Marie Love, explains, this community remains “on intimate terms with death”.

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