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The Stroll – Sundance 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read
A Black transgender woman looks past the camera in a black and white photo.

Looking back can be a double-edged sword. It can uncover delightful memories, but also fragments of pain. Sometimes, the most painful part is the fact that no one else shares the same history. All of this subject matter is covered in Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker's eye-opening and poignant centred on the Black transgender sex workers of .

What immediately elevates the film is the connection the filmmakers have to The Stroll. Lovell herself was a prominent figure in the community that made the New York street their home. In the film, she invites her sisters to connect and recall their experiences of the 80's & 90's; with The Stroll now long gone. Lovell's direct involvement within the narrative gives way to genuine and engaging interviews with other sex workers of colour. Through interviews, archival footage, animation, and footage shot on the same streets in the present day; we are invited into the world of these women. They are intelligent, hilarious, and resilient in equal measure. As a result, the relationships the audience builds with the subjects later impact climactic revelations, with all the more emotional poignancy.

An abundance of stories are told to paint a picture of what it was like on The Stroll. The women look back on their experiences with fondness, as the sisterhood formed on the aforementioned streets were powerful and essential for their survival. Surprisingly to some viewers, it wasn't the clients that presented the biggest challenge. It was the authorities. A large part of The Stroll highlights the harmful power of the police and the eye-opening ways they made life difficult for Black trans sex-workers. Of course this issue is bigger than one street, and the film cleverly highlights that fact. 

The police aren't the only group of people held under the magnifying glass of accountability either. Politicians, the general public, the community, and even RuPaul (thanks to an astonishing piece of archival research featured) are all examined in their complicit acts. In essence, The Stroll calls on all of us to do better; as trans sex-workers of colour have been swept under the rug and often forgotten about in our social-view. What is devastating is how a lot of the archival footage is reminiscent of other documentaries similar to The Stroll; the same abuse and erasure has happened before, and keeps on occurring.

Often a documentary can feel superficial when going for an uplifting ending, just to make the audience feel good. However, the hopeful ending of The Stroll isn't for the audience, but rather for the women of The Stroll. One particular individual remarks how even through the darkest of times, they have to carry on to respect the activism and achievements of those before, and to do the same for future generations. An incredibly emotional protest and speech captures the euphoric feeling of the good that comes when we support Black women, sex-workers and trans folk. The Stroll was always bigger than just one New York street. 

The Stroll premiered at this year's , as part of the ‘US Documentary' competition. HBO will release the film in the coming months.