Jenna Roberts previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays presentation of Sara Jordenö’s Kiki.
Sara Jordenö’s Kiki picks up two and a half decades after Paris Is Burning, checking in on New York’s ballroom scene – Christopher Street Pier and the young black LGBTQ community, for which, over many decades, it’s provided a haven. This film offers insight into both the balls and the young voguers. The warmth of the scene is palpable, its energy infectious, and its subjects are each as glitteringly brilliant and engaging talking to camera as they are owning the stage. Jordenö directs with flair. Interspersed vignettes of voguing are beautifully shot, offering the viewer the spectacle and escapism that holds the ballroom’s appeal. But what drives Kiki as portrait is the political.
This isn’t simply due to Jordenö’s direction. Rather her subjects – this Kiki generation – we find actively restructured around inclusivity and activism, formalising themselves as a support network: “You try to live in the heteronormative system and [it] don’t work and they oppress you, so why we don’t just create our own systems?” The scene’s politicisation has been its preservation. Its focus is now no longer simply the survival we see in Paris Is Burning, but a matter of carving out spaces in which to thrive.
I first caught Kiki at last year’s Berlinale, now over a year ago, where it ended up scooping the Teddy Award for Best LGBT Essay Film. If it’s a sad truth how many of the issues facing the ballroom scene still remain – an entrenched neglect of and hostility towards its LGBTQ youth-of-colour, and chronic lack of funding for crucial community services – it’s an even sadder truth that this community is now as vulnerable as ever. The progress of these last two and a half decades – so hard won – is under very real threat of being brutally undone. What on that first viewing I felt to be a living document of progress in action, grounded in optimism and self-empowerment, is now more fragile, a bittersweet time capsule. Perhaps we must watch Kiki not only as a testament to resilience but also as a rallying cry.