“I do ballet and the hood loves me.”
This proclamation is the refrain of Kylie, a shining jewel in Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Short Film Program. In just a few seconds shy of five minutes, the film successfully captures a clear image of who its subject — Tiny Pretty Things star Kylie Jefferson — is. She’s a young Black woman who has done what many would consider near impossible: maintained a burning passion for an art form that tried to tell her she wasn’t enough.
The mastermind behind Kylie is Sterling Hampton— a personal friend of Jefferson’s, which is evident in his directorial approach to this hommage. Every aspect of this film is choreographed with immense understanding and love, from the in-your-face scoring to the choice to present the film in black and white. Not only does the latter let Jefferson and her talent take center stage, it’s a wonderful representation of her power as a dancer. And as a Black woman.
Kylie is love letter to Los Angeles as much as it is one for Jefferson. In fact, the film presents the two as one. We hear Jefferson talk about ballet and her relationship to the performance dance while they watch cinematographer Adam Shattuck stunning imagery of her dancing in inner city LA. They appear to move as one, with each structure and body part of Jefferson playing a role to create something beautiful. She even compares ballet to architecture in the film. Inglewood and Dockweiler Beach are two of many LA institutions that make memorable cameos.
But even if you aren’t an Angelino, you’ll still find something familiar and comforting in this film. Perhaps it’s the flashes of Jefferson’s life outside of the dance studio. We watch Jefferson in the beauty shop— an errand Black folks know all too well— as she talks about perfectionism in ballet.
Later, in another quiet moment, Jefferson eloquently explains how Black women are tired of being told they are less than. It’s the first time we see her depleted, and Shattuck and Hampton’s interpretation of the moment is powerful.
Kylie is a must-watch for lovers of art across mediums, but especially for young Black women. Her story is our story, and it’s told in a way all Black stories should be— honestly, triumphantly, and with the utmost respect.
Kylie screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.