‘The Stroll’ Review: Telling Their Own Stories

At several points in “The Stroll,” Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker’s loving portrait of New York City’s transgender sex workers, moments of striking candor break through the conventions of documentary.

An interviewee pauses warily in the middle of a conversation to check if it’s OK to reveal explicit details of her sex work, to which Lovell (who is transgender and a former prostitute herself) responds with, “Girl, you’re fine!” Later, as Lovell walks with another of the film’s subjects, Izzy, through the now-gentrified meatpacking district in Manhattan where they once both plied their trades, Izzy suddenly bursts into tears, interrupting the scene with a pained, “I can’t do this. I hate this place.”

These scenes might have ended up on the cutting room floor in a different documentary. Here, their inclusion reinforces the novelty of “The Stroll”: It’s the rare movie that allows transgender sex workers to speak for themselves without sanitizing or sensationalizing their experiences.

Lovell’s own story mirrors that of many of her interviewees, who include the ballroom icon Egyptt LaBeija and the activist Ceyenne Doroshow. (Drucker, a trans artist and activist, remains behind the camera.) Lovell ‌arrived in Manhattan as a teenager in the 1990s, seeking an escape from a hard life at home in Yonkers, ‌but she was fired from her coffee shop job when she began transitioning. So she turned to “the stroll”: a stretch of West 14th Street that cut through a blood-splattered neighborhood of meatpackers, and offered a haven for cruising gay men and transgender prostitutes. It allowed Lovell and her colleagues not just to make a living but also to find community — even a semblance of family.

Inspired to take on the storytelling reins after being featured in a 2007 documentary, Lovell, along with Drucker, assembles interviews and archival images that sparkle with joy, banter and sorority, even as they detail brutality and precarity. What unfurls is a micro-history of New York: from the 1970s, with the city’s early gay rights movements (which often excluded transgender people), to the broken-windows policies of the ’90s and the economic fallout of Sept. 11, to the gentrification that began to sweep the city when Michael Bloomberg took office as mayor in 2002.

As the city became seemingly safer, prettier and richer for some, its most vulnerable denizens paid a steep price. “I can’t believe how many times I had to go to jail for the Highline Park to be built,” Lovell says wryly. But if “The Stroll” is an indictment and elegy, it is also a remarkable document of the self-determination of the women and workers who learned, in the face of the worst odds, to fend for themselves and each other.

The Stroll
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. Watch on Max.

The Stroll

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