comScore Marsha P. Johnson Documentary Accused of Stealing | The Mary Sue
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Creator of Netflix’s Marsha P. Johnson Documentary Accused of Stealing from Transgender Filmmaker Reina Gossett

Netflix’s documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is receiving excellent reviews, giving viewers a better understanding of the black trans woman who was at the center of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Considering how white and cisgender-focused the LGBTQIA movement can be, media that aims to educate and correct our understanding of the history becomes incredibly essential. No, we haven’t forgotten about Stonewall.

However, a recent accusation directed at the film suggests that it may be replicating the same kind of erasure it strives to combat. Transgender activist, filmmaker, writer, and researcher Reina Gossett has claimed that director David France made The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson based on a grant application video she made with Sasha G. Wortzel (Happy Birthday, Marsha!), which was “sent to the Kalamazoo/Arcus Foundation social justice center while he was visiting.”

Gossett posted to Instagram:

#deepshare #realtruth this week while I’m borrowing money to pay rent, david france is releasing his multimillion dollar netflix deal on marsha p johnson. i’m still lost in the music trying to #pay_it_no_mind and reeling on how this movie came to be and make so much $ off of our lives and ideas. david got inspired to make this film from a grant application video that @sashawortzel & I made and sent to Kalamazoo/Arcus Foundation social justice center while he was visiting. He told the people who worked there -i shit you not- that he should be the one to do this film, got a grant from Sundance/Arcus using my language and research about STAR, got Vimeo to remove my video of Sylvia’s critical “y’all better quiet down” speech, ripped off decades of my archival research that i experienced so much violence to get, had his staff call Sasha up at work to get our contacts then hired my and Sasha’s *ADVISOR* to our Marsha film Kimberly Reed to be his producer. And that’s just the shit I have the spoons to name. TRUSTTHERE’SSOMUCH MORE. This kind of extraction/excavation of black life, disabled life, poor life, trans life is so old and so deeply connected to the violence Marsha had to deal with throughout her life. So I feel so much rage and grief over all of this & STAR must have some serious level plan on moving through many—and clearly by any means necessary—to get the message out… So tonight I’m channeling high priestess energy to show me the honey throne cuz this storm queen is

A post shared by Reina Gossett (@reinaxgossett) on

Pointing out the frustration of seeing the Netflix film gain as much attention as it has while she’s “borrowing money to make rent,” Gossett writes:

“He told the people who worked there -i shit you not- that he should be the one to do this film, got a grant from Sundance/Arcus using my language and research about STAR, got Vimeo to remove my video of Sylvia’s critical “y’all better quiet down” speech, ripped off decades of my archival research that i experienced so much violence to get, had his staff call Sasha up at work to get our contacts then hired my and Sasha’s *ADVISOR* to our Marsha film Kimberly Reed to be his producer. And that’s just the shit I have the spoons to name…This kind of extraction/excavation of black life, disabled life, poor life, trans life is so old and so deeply connected to the violence Marsha had to deal with throughout her life.”

Activist Janet Mock also uploaded a post in support of Gossett, detailing the extensive archival work she’s done about trans women of color essential to the revolution.

Holding this revolutionary woman @reinaxgossett close today as filmmaker David France is applauded for his Netflix documentary about Marsha P. Johnson. It is based on Reina Gossett’s work (swipe to read Reina’s statement). Reina is a black trans woman who reintroduced our generation to ourselves by uncovering and recentering trans women of color revolutionaries. Her digital archives of movement foremothers Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera are integral to our current understanding of their contributions which were long diminished by white cis folk. This brilliant black trans girl went about researching, archiving & digitizing content that was previously inaccessible for decades. She interviewed Marsha & Sylvia’s peers. She did this work without pay. Today, this black trans woman’s work about a black trans woman was used to make a film helmed by a credentialed white cis man aided by Netflix’s millions. Meanwhile Reina is borrowing money to pay rent as viewers around the world watch a film based on her unpaid, uncredited work. Support Reina — she made @hbdmarsha w/ @sashawortzel! Book her as a speaker! Let others know about her vital contributions. These are our stories, our lives and we will not be erased or silenced.

A post shared by Janet Mock (@janetmock) on

France has denied these claims in a response on Twitter. There, he insisted he paid all artist collaborators and stated, “Reina thinks her work is in my film, but when she sees it she will know.” He also spoke in support of Happy Birthday, Marsha! and states he took steps to make sure they were not “duplicating efforts.”

Mock responded:

France eventually responded with a long Facebook post, talking about his connection with the film and writing:

“I admire Reina Gossett and look forward to her beautiful film. Alone among researchers, she has dedicated her work to the legacy of Marsha and early trans activism. Yet in terms of funding and support, I witnessed the obstacles she faces as an artist who is also a transgender woman of color, obstacles that have been far less onerous for me in pursuit of my craft. Racism and transphobia are hideous cancers.

By joining my voice to the campaign for Marsha’s justice, I hoped to amplify that call, not complicate it, and to bring whatever attention I could draw to this history and those who defend it. But I have complicated it nonetheless. I know that history-telling is not a zero sum equation. But funding and cultural power can be. It is wrong that our projects have not received equal attention. I re-double my commitment to bringing “Happy Birthday, Marsha” the attention and backing it needs and deserves, and hope that you will too. www.facebook.com/HBDmarsha

While France’s expresses support for Happy Birthday, Marsha! and acknowledges his privilege, it’s nevertheless leaves a poor taste in the mouth that Gossett’s crucial, unpaid work in preserving the legacy and history of Marsha P. Johnson sits in the backdrop rather than forefront. Too often, as we see in Johnson’s story, society benefits from the contributions of trans women of color without acknowledging them. That cannot happen here:


(via Teen Vogue, image: screencap)

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