American Documentary | POV has announced the broadcast premiere of Pier Kids on August 2, 2021 at 10pm on PBS. POV is American television's longest-running independent documentary series, now in its 34th season.
What does life look like for LGBTQ+ youth fifty years after Stonewall? Pier Kids, directed by Elegance Bratton and produced by Chester Algernal Gordon, transports audiences to New York City’s historic Christopher Street Pier where homeless queer Black youth navigate the streets to find safety and stability. The film shines a light on an underground community of Pier Kids, showcasing the intricate ways queer people of color utilize public space to build chosen family. This hopeful portrait exposes a side of New York City many often choose to ignore.
Filmed over the course of five years (2011-2016), the LQBTQ+ community are at the heart of Pier Kids, offering brief glimpses into many individuals' lives. While Pier Kids introduces many regulars to the Piers, the film provides intimate access to the lives and feelings of Casper, Desean, and Krystal. The sudden appearance and disappearance of new faces mimics the reality of The Piers, a place that offers something close enough to home, and is regarded as a ‘safe zone’ by the vulnerable young people who frequent the area. The film also illustrates the precarity of a heavy police presence in a community where sex work is the only means of survival for many.
Pier Kids received an award for Best Documentary Feature for AGLIFF (2020). Director Elegance Bratton was the recipient of the ‘Truer Than Fiction’ Independent Spirit Award (2021).
“People died during the making of this film,” Bratton states. “People were gay bashed and assaulted by police. People also just plain disappeared. It is important that the world know their stories so that these injustices stop. I am making this film to honor the legacy of this historic safe space for Black and brown queer people. I made this film as a way to help Black families understand what happens to their queer children after they’ve been kicked out. Most importantly I made this film to redirect the modern gay rights movement in support of the people started it, black and brown homeless queer youth.”
Desean, in one scene, recounts his struggles to find housing stability and support after aging out of the foster care system, stating, “I’ve thought about getting HIV because it would be easier to access resources if I was positive.” Krystal, a trans woman, has established her chosen family, and takes on a mother role to other youth in need of housing and assistance. But, sometimes, she herself needs help from her biological family; she struggles to maintain those bonds while having her womanhood challenged or invalidated. Casper, a queer skateboarder, relates what it was like to come out to his family, and the challenges that have faced him since.
“Witnessing the lives of all the participants in the film has been transformative for me. They've shown me that everyone is evolving” said Algernal. “Every day they choose to live another day, fight for their rights and demand more for themselves. Resilience and courage cannot adequately describe how our participants have overcome the systems of oppression brought upon them. Sharing their dreams of inclusivity and understanding make this story special.”
With intimate, immersive access to these fearless young people, Pier Kids illustrates the value of public space for brown and Black queer bodies to become their most realized versions of themselves, along the way highlighting the joys and resilience of a community many choose to ignore.
Pier Kids will be available to stream for 30 days, from August 2 to September 1, 2021 on pov.org.