Opening with BEHIND EVERY GOOD MAN (1966), this program offers a double bill that first delves into a rare, early depiction of a Black trans woman in America; before KOKOMO CITY gives us a contemporary glimpse into the lives of four Black trans women in NYC and Georgia, who are sex workers. With clarity and directness, they talk about their clients and lovers, their relationship to the Black community and their dreams and struggles with clarity and directness. In black and white images, director D. Smith captures black trans women’s lives through the lens and vision of another Black trans woman. The agenda is tapping into reality and rejecting projections, offering access to perspectives that rarely get to take up space.
Behind Every Good Man
Produced several years before the historic Stonewall Uprising for LGBTQ+ rights, director Nikolai Ursin’s gently-activist short provides an illuminating glimpse into the life of an African American man who openly lives part of his life as a woman. In strong contrast to the stereotypically negative depictions of transgender people as seen through the lens of Hollywood at the time, the protagonist of Ursin’s independent film is rendered as stable, hopeful and determined.
Stylistically, filmmaker Ursin (1942-1990) artfully blurs elements of cinéma vérité documentary and subtle dramatization to bring his unnamed lead’s deeply personal aspirations and meditations on love and acceptance to light. The resulting intimate portrait, possibly one of the earliest to honestly document a Black, gender-fluid person on film, serves as a rare cultural artifact at the intersection between transgender life and African American life in the U.S. at the mid-century. Significantly, the film also provides cinema and LGBTQ+ scholars with a previously unavailable bridge to later companion works, such as Shirley Clarke’s landmark documentary Portrait of Jason (1967) and the problematic, but essential pseudo-scientific study of a group of trans women, Queens at Heart (1967).
Behind Every Good Man is an important early work in a body of notable productions to which Ursin contributed. Following the completion of a master’s degree in film at the University of California, Los Angeles, Ursin went on to create a number of collaborations with his partner, acclaimed video artist Norman Yonemoto, including Second Campaign (1969), which documents the legacy of student unrest and protests in Berkeley the 1960s, and the independent feature Garage Sale (1976), which starred drag performer Goldie Glitters. Ursin also served as editor on the local Emmy Award-winning television documentary, The Age of Ballyhoo (1973), which was directed by noted film preservationist David Shepard. Nick Ursin passed away in 1990 at age 48. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.