In the new HBO documentary “The Stroll”, director Kristen Lovell and her fellow trans filmmaker Zackary Drucker shine a light on the queer community who spent years walking the titular area of New York City’s meat packing district.

From the 1970s to the early 2000s, The Stroll is where the LGBTQ+ community (especially the Trans community of color) struggled to survive through sex work and formed a makeshift family that protected one another.

Drucker and Lovell focus on the camaraderie found within the Trans women who worked those hard streets. These women are forever connected by their time on the streets and through a combined struggle to claim their identities. Some of the stories are moving, some are gut wrenching when we learn what these people went through. The tales of “Johns” good and bad, the homophobia, and the vile and sometimes violent tactics by the NYPD are all involving.

“The Stroll” features personal stories from LGBTQ + activists, sex worker advocates, and local trans icons such as Sylvia Rivera, who tirelessly fought for rights but was shunned by her own community.

RuPaul (now an icon for the community) is shown with disdain, as she treats the sex work as a “bit” for her own cable show, making fun of the experience.

The talking head interviews and retro footage lead viewers through the history of the area that also parallel the city’s politics at the time.

Rudy Giuliani’s quest to “clean up” the New York City streets becomes an interesting section. These moments show how trans women were constantly pushed aside and how Giuliani’s overly aggressive campaign put the trans community in even more danger. Regular citizens became more aggressive toward the LGBTQ+ people in their neighborhoods until it became a quest for the trans sex workers to stay safe and alive.

The filmmakers show the hypocrisy of choosy activism through the nationwide reaction to the murder of Matthew Shepard. The country seemed to unite in protest over Shepard’s killing but fell silent to the growing number of trans women who were dying on the streets.

Kristen Lovell rightfully speaks a hard truth when she says how the cries for Trans Justice havr echoed throughout history. Trans men and women have always been here, and their stories have always been important.

The mistake Lovell makes with the film is ignoring the depth and importance of her own story. It is important to know Lovell’s history and what led her from sex worker to filmmaker/activist. As an audience, we can understand why this happened. For a documentary that wants to tell the stories of those who were there, one would think (and appreciate) hearing the tale of the creator of the film, as she inserts herself into almost every moment.

What greatly hurts the film is how the style is too polished. Cinematically, the over-lit interview moments and the sunny outdoor conversations fail to reflect the grit and pain these women are speaking to. While the stories and connections are intimate, the glossiness of the production (coupled with ridiculous half animated inserts) harms the profundity of the subjects.

A great deal of the film is dedicated to activism. While commendable and understandable for the focus to be on the community’s strength, the history of the area plays like a Cliff’s Notes version of what could have been something deeper and more powerful.

Ultimately, Lovell and Drucker’s documentary becomes too manipulative. Through unnecessary stylistic interludes and an overly melancholy score (from James Newberry and Jordan Nus), the directors try to guide our emotions rather than letting the stories from their interview subjects organically move us.

“The Stroll” works best in the tales of the women who lived it and survived. Their stories are moving and relevant. Beyond this, the film has a lot to say, but struggles to fit it all in.


The Stroll

Directed by Kristen Lovell & Zackary Drucker

NR, 84 Minutes, HBO Documentary Films