On Friday, "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson" made its Netflix debut. But filmmaker and activist Reina Gossett says that the director behind the documentary stole her concept and is perpetuating racist and transphobic erasure.
Gossett, who currently works as the activist-in-residence at Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women, detailed “Death and Life" director David France‘s alleged thievery in a statement on Instagram on Saturday (October 7). Gossett, who is a Black transgender woman, says that France, who is a White man, based his documentary on a grant application she submitted to the Arcus Foundation. She and collaborator Sasha Wortzel were seeking support for "Happy Birthday, Marsha," their to-be-released short film about Johnson and Sylvia Rivera‘s co-leadership of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion.
#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. TRUST?THERE’S?SO?MUCH ?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
"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," Gossett wrote. She also said that France’s movie is earning unmerited attention and accolades while she struggles to pay rent.
Gossett’s statement received co-signs from supporters like journalist and trans advocate Janet Mock:
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.
"This brilliant Black trans girl went about researching, archiving and digitizing content that was previously inaccessible for decades," Mock wrote. "She interviewed Marsha and 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."
France responded to Gossett’s allegations in a tweet on Saturday and a Facebook statement on Sunday (October 8). He said in the tweet that Johnson was a friend, adding that he learned about "Happy Birthday, Marsha" only after he started production on "Death and Life" and tried not to replicate anything from the short:
Hi Janet. Please see below. pic.twitter.com/sHjz9CvU7T
— David France (@ByDavidFrance) October 7, 2017
He elaborated on these points in the Facebook statement, saying that his film does not incorporate Gossett’s premise and advocating for people to support Gossett’s film: