‘Kiki’: powerful look at LGBTQ issues

“…we’re all individuals.”

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Frederick Wiseman is one of the most influential documentary filmmakers of all time. What makes his films so massively powerful is the specificity in their simplicity.

Kiki, directed by Sara Jordenö, continues in a tradition similar to Wiseman’s. It uses a detailed voyeuristic approach to explore complex national issues in a way which becomes deceptively simple.

The word ‘kiki’ refers to a ballroom dance scene populated by LGBTQ youths of color in New York City. The subject may seem narrow, but as Jordenö widens the reach of her storytelling, she also enlarges the scope of issues which may seem niche to outsiders.

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The film’s flow is carefully hewn so that it moves freely from individual stories involving but not limited to abuse, abandonment by families, discrimination by police, and disease prevention, to the elaborate and energetic dance numbers staged in the ballroom events. These are terrific shots of joy and individual expression in the midst of a very powerful overall narrative about where the U.S. seems to be headed culturally in terms of LGBTQ acceptance.

I don’t juxtapose the two sides of the film to say that they don’t blend. On the contrary, editor Rasmus Ohlander’s decisive cuts keep the movie moving at a brisk pace without sacrificing the weight of the issues being explored. And the material Jordenö has captured certainly has tremendous weight.

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In the midst of Trump’s first 100 days in office, in the midst of the ‘bathroom bill’ being touted and debated across the country, and in the midst of a general fear and paranoia about the government sweeping the nation, a film like Kiki has been released to the masses. That is a minor miracle.

In Kiki, we hear from parents who struggled to accept their gay children. We hear from transgender individuals about how they feel a heteronormative culture impacts them personally. And we also see examples of strong leaders in the gay community keeping young people off the streets and helping to spread a positive and healthy environment for others in the community.

But perhaps most importantly, most bravely, we see marginalized individuals unafraid to excel, to exceed expectations, and to make a difference. All while dancing and being themselves. As one interviewee alludes to, dance always tells a story. The dance of Kiki is one which deserves to be watched with fresh eyes and an open heart.

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Kiki = A+

Available now on iTunes.

‘Kiki’ is unrated; contains adult language and strong thematic elements.

-George Napper

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