Pier Kids: The Life–Director Elegance Bratton’s Significant Docu (LGBTQ, Trans)

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Elegance Bratton

The group discussed Bratton’s documentary Pier Kids: The Life, which focuses on queer and trans youth living at New York City’s Christopher Street Pier.

The docu speaks to current issues, systemic racism, police violence toward the Black community, and the solutions necessary.

In making this film, Bratton thought of the Stonewall Riots and how Sylvia Riviera and Marsha P. Johnson were trans women of color that started the historic 1969 riot.

While filming queer and trans individuals, he wondered “What happens if they riot? What happens if all of these kids who are walking by… were to pick up a stone? A part of me was filming with the reasonable expectation that could happen at any moment, and to some degree, the desire for it to happen.”

One trans woman, Krystal Dixon, said she would not be filmed unless Bratton and the camera were her friend. “If I get caught by a cop, you are on my side,” Dixon told him. “If I’m hungry, you make sure I eat. You have to be my friend and then I’ll let you film my life.”

In the feature, Dixon returns home to see her mother and family members. Says Bratton: “For Krystal’s family, and a lot of Black families, the consequences of acting outside the procreation Christian —you know, make babies, make life, be closer to God thing — is a white supremacist environment because you don’t have descendants who will endure and survive in spite of this you know aggressive posturing of the state. Sometimes Black folks feel like they’re losing Black men everywhere. Cops are killing Black men and black homosexuals–all they want to do is just take Black men from us.”

“Christianity might be the lens through which that is kind of rationalized,” Bratton added. “Christian or not, the folks who are spewing this point of view are coming from an environment, from a cultural history, where they have been enslaved. Every aspect of their identity has been formed and directed at them by the person, the institutions that enslaved them — religion being one, government being another. All of these things are at play in these moments with Krystal and her family… I hope that people are listening to what they say in the film … and adding it up as they watch what happens when kick your children out.”

Brown said that seeing Dixon being embraced by her brothers “gave me hope” to which Algernal added he cried when he first saw that scene play out in the docu.  “The way her brothers love her, when I first saw that scene, the contrast of seeing how the women in her family treated her to how the men in the family,” he added. “I wish I grew up with someone protecting me like they protect her.”

The film really could speak to both parents and trans youth. He created something that he wished existed when he was a teenager “so that my mom would sit down and have the conversations in the film that she and I never got the chance to have.”

Police presence is evident throughout the film. The project took 5 years to make but it is as timely as ever with nationwide protests over police brutality. “What you see in Pier Kids is the end of the gentrification of the Christopher Street Pier,” Bratton said, the end of  “ethnic cleansing,” and law enforcement’s connection with it.

“That means that if you are black and you are outside and you are in a group, you are a threat. You represent the devaluation of property. Therefore you’re on high radar of police,” Bratton explained.

Seeking release, Bratton was told at the Tribeca Film Fest, “Your film is not about celebrities, your film is not a bio piece about a famous American designer… Your film is about poor Black gay trans kids.”

There are “unspoken” boundaries for successful or mainstream documentaries. “You could be going through the worst Black pain of your life as long as you’re singing and dancing at some point, as long as you show the industry that you can transcend this pain and achieve something of cultural value that would make me care about your pain, your pain is worthy of consumption and distribution.”

Brown emphasized again the necessity for the documentary’s distribution, saying for anyone watching this film it would be apparent Bratton has “hit this moment and it’s important.”

While giving final remarks about the film and the impact it could have for those who watch, Bratton stressed “I believe this is a story about families, what it means to be an American and this is a story about the gay rights movement.”

“Black trans women made it possible for us to get married. All the things that we do to survive this lifestyle that we live, Black trans women laid down the groundwork. How do we look if 50 years later, people who look like them still live like this. We’ve neglected working-class people of color in our discussion of gay rights. We have not gone to the ghetto, we have not gone to the spaces we have cut off from all sorts of resources, intellectual and material, to make sure that our message is being heard where it needs to be heard most. That’s what this film is meant to correct.”