The meatpacking district in New York City used to be a labor of love for Black and brown trans women who worked hard to make a living. For those who lived it, the experience is even more disorienting. That's one of the haunting revelations found in "The Stroll."
"The Stroll" is a film by and about trans sex workers, a rarity for depictions of an all-too-often sensationalized and dehumanized group. They also discovered joy, humor, sisterhood, and community in these women's lives, which is what makes it so different from what's gone before.
"My mission is to tell this story before we're gone," says Lovell, who is now in the director's chair. "I feel like I might get it right, if I was the one to paint this more pleasant New York."
RuPaul walks down The Stroll lightly interviewing a few girls, all the while keeping himself from them with every joke. It's a shocking reframing that makes Lovell's personal experience even more poignant.
The cognitive dissonance continues with the rapid gentrification of the area, first by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then by Michael Bloomberg. A former neighborhood organizer named John, who agreed to be interviewed for the film, proudly remembers a banner he hung from what is now The Highline, threatening to expose potential Johns by using his license plate numbers to identify them and call home (which he did).
Egyptt LaBeija, who appears in the final credits as "Overall GodMother of the House of LaBeija," and Ceyenne Doroshow, the founder of G.L.I.T.S., which recently opened the first housing complex owned by Black trans women in New York, are among the filmmakers who continue to amaze and delight in their trans heritage.
'The Stroll' employs dynamic black and white 2-D cutout animation to illustrate some of the film's themes, similar to Drucker's excellent HBO documentary 'The Lady and The Dale.' It also protects the film from depicting violence against sex workers while still being able to address it.
The Stroll explores the many decks stacked against trans sex workers of color that still linger today: the corrupt NYPD, terrible conditions at Rikers Island, and the legacy of both Rudy Giuliani's broken windows policing and Bloomberg's unchecked real estate development. The result is tragic, tragic, and unresolved.
At the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, "The Stroll" was first presented in a documentary competition in the United States. It will be released by HBO Documentary Films.