The Atlanta Police Department reported that Koko was found with a gunshot wound in Southwest Atlanta shortly before 11 p.m. on Tuesday. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Koko, whose given name is Rasheeda Williams, was a prominent transgender woman featured in the award-winning documentary “Kokomo City,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film, which marks the feature directorial debut of Grammy-nominated producer, singer and songwriter D. Smith, presents a raw depiction of the lives of four Black trans sex workers living in Atlanta and New York City — Koko, Daniella Carter, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silver — as they confront the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, as well as the persistent threat of violence they face each day.
Following the film’s Sundance premiere, Koko — who was also a rapper — shared a message of thanks to Smith and associate producer Dustin Lohman for giving her the opportunity to share her story. (“Kokomo City” is produced by Smith, Harris Doran and Bill Butler. Executive producers are Lena Waithe, Rishi Rajani, Stacy Barthe and William Melillo.)
“I will be the reason there’s more opportunities and doors opening for transgender girls,” Koko wrote on Instagram. “What you’ve done here for me is going to save a lot of lives.”
In his review for Variety, chief critic Peter Debruge called the film “unforgettable,” praising Smith, who is also trans, and her subjects for “totally reframing the conversation” about their identity. “In its no-holds-barred approach,” Debruge wrote, “’Kokomo City’ aims to unpack why entrenched ideas of masculinity and gender roles make trans-ness so threatening.”
After winning the NEXT Audience and Innovator awards at Sundance, the documentary was acquired by Magnolia Pictures with plans for a theatrical release later this year. Following its big wins, Smith told Variety’s Matt Donnelly she was grateful to see the response to her film’s three-dimensional characters.
“In real life, trans women are funny. And we’re sad, and we’re sexy, and we have body parts that are our body parts. It’s time to embrace that. Enough with the fortresses that are built around us, keeping us from fully joining society,” she said.
“Kokomo City” went on to screen at the Berlin International Film Festival (where it again won the audience award), South by Southwest and was scheduled to screen on Saturday as a marquee selection at the Atlanta Film Festival.
News of Koko’s death has rocked the “Kokomo City” cast and filmmakers, who shared tributes to their friend on social media.
In a statement to Variety, Smith said: “On Tuesday night, Rasheeda Williams was shot and killed in Atlanta. Rasheeda, aka Koko Da Doll, was the latest victim of violence against Black transgender women. I created ‘Kokomo City’ because I wanted to show the fun, humanized, natural side of Black trans women. I wanted to create images that didn’t show the trauma or the statistics of murder of Transgender lives. I wanted to create something fresh and inspiring. I did that. We did that! But here we are again. It’s extremely difficult to process Koko’s passing, but as a team we are more encouraged now than ever to inspire the world with her story. To show how beautiful and full of life she was. She will inspire generations to come and will never be forgotten.”
“Never thought I’d lose you, but here I am standing alone without you by my side,” Carter wrote on Instagram. “We’re sisters for life we promised, but now you’re gone I don’t know what to do without you. I’m going crazy, I’m trying to hold on to keep strong, but it just doesn’t feel right I’m waiting here my arms wide open, tears running down my face, ready for you to return even if it takes forever my sister. I will truly miss you sis.”
Silver also posted a tribute on Instagram, writing, “My sister you are gone but you will never be forgotten! I am struggling right now to grasp the fact that we just spoke and now you aren’t here by my side! We will get justice for you and please protect Black trans women at all cost!”
Mitchell wrote a series of messages on her Instagram stories. “I’m still in disbelief. U deserved more. I’m sry u were born in a hateful world that didn’t understand you,” she wrote in one post. In another, she used the “#Justice4Koko.”
The film’s producer Doran posted a lengthy tribute on Facebook, alongside a video of Koko posing on the red carpet before the film’s Sundance premiere.
“I am absolutely grief stricken over the loss of our wonderful Koko Da Doll. To know Koko, was to love Koko. She was the sweetest, kindest and gentlest soul. This tragedy is just unbearable to process,” Doran wrote. “Koko was working so hard to get out. She is brilliant in the film and when you see it, you will fall in love with her just as we all have. But she had also discovered her gift for music. She was making amazing music, so much so that @lenawaithe even put one of her songs on her show. Koko had been through so much and was doing the work and was getting out. To go from starring in a film at Sundance to this within 4 months is beyond words.”
The Sundance Film Festival also shared a tribute on social media: “We are saddened to hear about the death of Rasheeda Williams aka Koko Da Doll. We were honored to have her at the festival this year with ‘Kokomo City,’ where she reminded Black trans women, ‘We can do anything, we can be whatever we want to be.’ It is a tragic loss.”
In a press release following Koko’s death, the Atlanta Police Department stated that it is “investigating three violent crimes involving transgender women this year. While these individual incidents are unrelated, we are very aware of the epidemic-level violence against Black and brown transgender women in America.”