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The Stroll review (BFI Flare 2023) — a battle cry for trans resilience

The Stroll is a vital documentary movie that tells the story of how trans women of colour worked in an area of NYC known as "the stroll".

The Stroll review

Our Verdict

The Stroll might be a specific historical record of one particular place in one particular moment of time, and that's important, but it's also an urgent battle cry that won't be denied, a story that demands to be told by the people who lived through it firsthand. You'll struggle to find a more emotive and more important documentary this year.

Queer history is endlessly overlooked or even denied, and that’s because there are people out there who will actively try and erase our stories to prevent them from being told. By denying our collective past, efforts can be made to deny our future too, which means it’s often up to us to tell our own stories instead to ensure that our history endures in the face of hate and adversity.

Enter The Stroll, a new movie and vital documentary directed by Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker that tells the story of how trans women of colour worked in an area of NYC known as “the stroll” from the ’70s right up until the early noughties.

Through interviews, archive footage, and some gorgeous animation, The Stroll brings these women’s stories to life while also highlighting the intrinsic role that they played in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. That alone would make for a fascinating, important watch, but what elevates The Stroll even more is the fact that Lovell herself was once a prominent figure in “the stroll” community.

With the stroll long gone, Lovell invites her sisters to kick back and remember everything they once went through together, combining the good and the bad to create a deeply resonant historical document that plays out like a fun kiki with friends.

There’s a level of trust and intimacy here that would be hard to secure in the hands of another, and that enriches the film tenfold. We get to know and respect these women in the same way that Lovell does, and the understanding she brings to each conversation helps navigate some of the harder stories we hear too.

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United as a sisterhood, these women endured so much, but their clients were rarely the problem. Instead, it was the authorities, specifically the police and city politicians, who persecuted them the most. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but what might take audiences aback is the role that other queer people also played in their marginalisation, including RuPaul himself.

In a shocking reveal, archival footage from the 80s shows RuPaul poke fun at sex workers along the stroll for so-called interviews thinly disguised as classist mockery. It’s astonishing to see a so-called ally behave like that so bluntly, even if the person in question has had a notoriously thorny past when it comes to trans issues on the TV series Drag Race and beyond.

The Stroll review

The Stroll makes a point of including these harder moments to illustrate the very real threats these women faced just for existing. Persecution and physical danger go hand in hand, so it’s no wonder that one of the interviewees, author and activist Ceyenne, celebrates the fact she’s just turned 60.

It’s a milestone that’s still rarely attainable for trans women of colour, even now. The Stroll reiterates this often by reminding us that there were plenty more around then who are no longer here to participate in the film today.

In that regard, The Stroll is a loving tribute to the resilience of these women who remain, but also trans people everywhere, whether they’re uplifting each other or fighting to uplift the entire LGBTQ+ community. As the filmmakers are keen to emphasise here, trans sex workers of colour played a pivotal role in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and still do now. This incredible strength is manifested best in an inspiring sequence where animation is used to portray Lovell’s sisters as the superheroes they already are on the inside.

Drucker and Lovell constantly have their subject’s best interests in mind, and efforts to invite them into the film’s creation humanise them even more by making these women vital collaborators in the telling of their own stories. And that’s vital because so few trans people, especially women of colour, have been given the space they need to speak up and let their voices be heard.

The Stroll smartly uses this small microcosm of trans history to shine a light on issues far bigger than one mere street. This is a must-see film that holds the power to help manifest real change, but only if we champion it as loudly as the filmmakers champion the trans women of colour who made this all possible.

If you love great stories, check out our list of the best Netflix documentaries. The team have also the best movies ever made for your enjoyment. If that’s not enough, we’ve also got guides on all the upcoming 2023 movies, including Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Aquaman 2.