Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker’s “The Stroll” is a riveting documentary about transgender women of color during the 1990s and early 2000s engaging in sex work in an area known as The Stroll in the Meatpacking District of lower Manhattan. It is a story of despair, sisterhood, and triumph.
From the start, this film reveals itself to be by someone from that community, reclaiming their own narrative, a fact the movie reveals as we cleverly cut back and forth to Kristen in the editing room. From both a technical and political standpoint, “The Stroll” is a tremendous achievement. Technically, the film is shot beautifully and well-paced. With only an hour and 25 minutes of runtime, it desperately makes the audience want to see more. We fall in love with this group of women and want them to win more and more.
Politically, this movie is another example of the transformative power of filmmaking. It is part of a medium traditionally gatekept by white cismen with their limited perspective, but the flood gate is opening. Lovell and Drucker do not take an “Imperial Overseer” approach to this topic. When we see Tabytha, Ceyenne, Egyptt, and our other colorful and vibrant women, we see Kristen right next to them. She makes space for these women to share their stories while demonstrating empathy as a sister and participant.
As a result, the film is haunting and feels like a whole picture rather than a narrow one, like other films on similar topics. Lovell serves as our guide through the underbelly of the disenfranchised as she reveals her own story and that of her sisters. Sisterhood is a main theme within this story, as for many transgender women of color on The Stroll. Community was all they had. Many of the young girls and women in the Meatpacking District during The Stroll were runaways or kicked out of their families. With nowhere to go and employment discrimination due to their transition, the transgender women of color in this area turned to sex work to make a living.
Unfortunately, this occupation came with workplace violence. It is disheartening to hear tales of young girls, some 15 years old or younger, displaced and put into a world where they are given the cold shoulder. But despite the tyranny of former Mayor Giuliani, police brutality, abusive clients, and rampant homelessness, the love and support shared among the trans women of The Stroll kept them going. The older trans women, especially, provided the protection and guidance these young women needed. Described as Wonder Woman or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the transgender sex workers wore metaphysical armor in the face of adversity.
Confidence was in the air on 14th Street. And by drawing out their confidence in themselves, these women could help each other. To be on The Stroll took strength and tenacity, yet these women took to the streets with beauty and grace. It’s a strength we continue to see as we watch these people relive their stories in each interview. Among the strongest is Kristen herself.
Unintentionally, Kristen becomes like the big sister in this tale. We see her as the same anchor and aid for her sisters, just like the Wonder Women of The Stroll were to many girls who walked the street each night. With a warm smile, an open heart, and empathic ears, Kristen lifts her sisters. Beyond The Stroll, Lovell and Drucker also carry the audience through the history of trans rights. The biggest highlight is Sylvia Rivera, a trans activist, sex worker, and major player in the Stonewall Inn uprising. Described as the Mother of the Community, Rivera—along with Marsha P. Johnson—fought for the livelihood of trans youth and adults despite their exclusion from the gay rights movement.
The film pays homage not only to Rivera’s voice and legacy but also to her humanity. We see her joy, her sadness, and her home. She was a pillar and a sister. Although Rivera, like many of her sisters, did not live to see the evolving triumph of the trans community, their compassion for those they anchored lives on. The war may not be over, but many battles have been won. “The Stroll” captures that essence beautifully.
Debuts on HBO on June 21st at 9 pm EST.