The director and subjects of Kokomo City are expressing shock over the death of Rasheeda Williams, one of the trans women featured in the award-winning documentary, who reportedly was shot to death in Atlanta Tuesday night.
Atlanta police say they are investigating the killing after being called to the scene of the shooting on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW. “Upon arrival, officers located a female victim with an apparent gunshot wound. She was not alert, conscious or breathing and pronounced deceased on scene by AFR [Atlanta Fire Rescue Department],” police said in a statement. “Homicide investigators responded to the scene and are working to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident. The investigation continues.”
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Atlanta police have released no further information. They did not identify the victim by name, but Kokomo City director D. Smith and another woman who appears in the documentary say it was Williams, a performing artist who went under the stage name Koko Da Doll. Kokomo City shows the struggle of Koko and other Black trans women in Atlanta and New York to move beyond a life of sex work, which they are often compelled to do as the only means of supporting themselves in a society that offers next to no traditional employment opportunities to women like them.
“On Tuesday night, Rasheeda Williams was shot and killed in Atlanta. Rasheeda, aka Koko Da Doll, was the latest victim of violence against Black transgender women,” Kokomo City director D. Smith said in a statement provided exclusively to Deadline. “I created Kokomo City because I wanted to show the fun, humanized, natural side of Black trans women. I wanted to create images that didn’t show the trauma or the statistics of murder of Transgender lives. I wanted to create something fresh and inspiring. I did that. We did that! But here we are again. It’s extremely difficult to process Koko’s passing, but as a team we are more encouraged now than ever to inspire the world with her story. To show how beautiful and full of life she was. She will inspire generations to come and will never be forgotten.”
Koko and other trans women in the film attended the Sundance Film Festival in January, where Kokomo City held its world premiere. The film executive produced by Lena Waithe, Stacy Barthe, William Melillo, and Rishi Rajani earned two awards at Sundance — the Adobe NEXT Innovator Award, and the Audience Award in the festival’s NEXT section.
In an Instagram post, fellow Kokomo City participant Daniella Carter wrote, “MY CASTMATE WAS MURDERED LAST NIGHT. I’m truly at a lost [sic] of words and in deep pain. Please contact ATl PD if you have any tips you can offer. Please share this with anyone you know in atl.”
In addition to Koko Da Doll and Daniella Carter, the film stars Dominique Silver and Liyah Mitchell. In the film, the women describe the threat of violence inherent in sex work; Kokomo City begins with Mitchell sharing an incident in which she discovered a client was carrying a gun (they scuffled over the weapon, but later Mitchell discovered the man did not intend to harm her). Silver describes an incident in which a client grew angry after discovering she was trans and beat her.
Three out of four transgender sex workers have experienced sexual violence or intimate partner violence at some point in their lives, according to the Transgender Law Center. “Many trans women of color who have been murdered were sex workers or have engaged in sex work at some point in their lives.” [There is no indication from Atlanta police at this point whether Williams’ death was connected to sex work].
Kokomo City, produced by D. Smith, Harris Doran, and Bill Butler, was acquired by Magnolia Pictures at Sundance, with a U.S. theatrical release planned for later this year. Dogwoof is releasing the film in theaters in the U.K. and Ireland on August 4.
The film has been praised for its candid and unapologetic depiction of life for the trans women who appear in it. Smith, who announced her transition in 2016, says she made the film independently to avoid having anyone dictate the content.
“These women have beautiful lives, beautiful stories, beautiful spirits, and it was completely untampered with and it was in a true raw form, even ’til the end of editing,” Smith told Deadline at the Berlin Film Festival, where Kokomo City screened in the Panorama section. “So there was no one to interfere with that process.”
In Berlin, Carter talked about new professional opportunities that have opened for her as a result of the film. But, in candid fashion, she said she hasn’t forgotten trans women who still have to do sex work to get by.
“Many of my sisters have had to flip a dick… or do a low trick to pay their bills,” Carter said. “I mean, literally, before opportunity came, it was survival. And so that’s how we survived.”
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