Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Susani Mahadura's documentary tells a very personal story whilst teasing out related themes." | Photo: Courtesy of Newfest

We meet her first out in the forest, her bright orange and green dress a vivid splash of colour among the tall Finnish pines. She looks strikingly out of place until we glimpse a dragonfly and reminded of the myriad hues of the small creatures hidden in this vast landscape. Kelet tells us how she used to come here as a child, after her family moved from Somalia, before they went to Manchester, which she hated. Now she's back, and dwarfed as she is by the crowded urban landscape of Helsinki, where she has made her home, she has a vibrancy about her that nobody could miss.

Changing her name and trying to meet the approval of a clerk who says that 'Kelet' is not a registered name in Finland, she lies and claims that it's traditional in Somalia. She needs ID that matches who she is, having missed out of work opportunities because she's trans - something that seems particularly stupid because she's a model, so what potential employers see is literally what they get. It's an example of the microaggressions that make life unnecessarily difficult for someone already scraping by on a low income. On another occasion, she's turned down by an agency which says that it has enough black models already.

Kelet puts a brave face on it. An award-winning face, in fact. She's proud of her successes, keeping her trophies on display. When not working, she finds social support from local trans friends and the wider LGBTQ community. The film provides a reminder that stigmatised minorities don't necessarily support each other. It's difficult to exist in an intersectional space. But vogueing brings people together, and Kelet, tall, slender, stunningly beautiful, is a natural catwalk queen.

Susani Mahadura's documentary, which screened as part of Newfest 2020, tells a very personal story whilst teasing out related themes. How can people of colour overcome the easily internalised beliefs about beauty that come from growing up in societies where whiteness is prized? How can they - and trans people of all races - exist visibly in the world and celebrate the way they look without being treated as exotic objects? What does it mean to choose to stand out as a member of a tiny minority in a country like Finland?

Kelet has big ambitions. Her dream is to appear on the cover of Vogue. She certainly has the look. Friends in the business are full of praise for her talent, her smarts. Will it be enough? This film doesn't provide the answer but it asks a lot of interesting questions. It's rich in the glamour and glory that people on the fringes make for themselves, and it's an intriguing portrait of one young immigrant woman building a life on her own terms.

Reviewed on: 27 Oct 2020
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Kelet is a young Somali trans woman who dreams of becoming a Vogue model. Leaving her family in Manchester to return to her childhood home in Finland, she draws on the support of her friends in the Vogue community to immerse herself in Helsinki's glamour.

Director: Susani Mahadura

Writer: Susani Mahadura

Starring: Kelet, Lola, Ofimja, Amanda, Max

Year: 2020

Runtime: 54 minutes

Country: Finland


Newfest 2020

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