Combining Black trans lives with ballroom voguing, ‘Walk For Me’ tells a unique and authentic story
It’s not often you find the Black queer and transgender expereince shown so completely and authentically on film, but Walk For Me by Elegance Bratton does just that.
Bratton, a grad student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, has made the short film to tell the story of Hannah, a young Black trans girl exploring and learning to express her gender identity in New York City’s ballroom drag subculture.
Check out the trailer below:
The ballroom is a space where queer individuals of every sexuality, gender expression, and gender identity compete or “walk” for trophies and cash prizes.
These contests are typically referred to as balls where contestants dress in drag to a perform in traditional feminine, upper class clothing. Balls are a safe space created by queer individuals to express themselves and receive the validation that they usually don’t receive in public spaces.
“We are Black and queer, so we have the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism that impact us on a racial level that are encoded into our legal system and then you have this queer thing,” Bratton said after a recent screening of the film at the Richmond Afrikana Independent Film Festival. “There is a history of certain sex acts and sexual relationships that were outlawed, but with the eradication of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and passage of same-sex marriage we now are living in a reality where homosexuality is not illegal.”
Beyond telling an interesting story with fabulous people and even more fabulous dancing, Bratton’s film explores a number of issues the director has faced in real life- from homelessness to learning to deal with and understand their own life as a trans person.
After coming out at the age of 16, Bratton was kicked out of his home. For nine years, he lived in homeless shelters until he joined the military as a photographer and videographer. Being abandoned and kicked out of home, is unfortunately a reality that many queer youth face. Bratton’s first film, Pier Kids, focuses on the lives of homeless black youths living in New York off Christopher St., the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
“We are living in a reality where 40 to 60 percent of this country’s homeless population are LGBTQ youth and half of that are Black,” said Bratton.
This focus on homelessness plays out in Walk For Me with incredible power as Hannah finds acceptance in a new social circle set to a background of press on nails and lace. Surrounded by other like her, she finds a new home at the ball, someplace where she could be seen and loved for who she truly is.
Bratton prided himself on filling his cast with trans women of color who he said are already “icons and legends” of the house ballroom culture. “It is important to me that the authenticity is maintained,” he said.
The film also stars cis-gendered people in cis-roles. Yolonda Ross, from Netflix’s acclaimed The Get Down, plays Hannah’s mother and Dominique Jackson from the television show Strut also plays a role.
The film, shot in the verité tradition of directors like Mike Leigh and John Cassavettes, follows a “hyper reality ” format which makes the audience feel like they are backstage with the girls taping over nipples and applying eye lashes. But beyond the interesting vantage point, Bratton hopes the behind the scenes feel will help Black folks connect with some of their most marginalized brothers and sisters.
“Black communities need to spend time with trans people so that they can understand the ways they support and love one another.” he said. “I think everybody can learn from that.”
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