[The Sexuality Blog] New Netflix film about trans activist Marsha P Johnson is hit with controversy

Marsha P Johnson

For anyone who actively follows the work and lives of transwomen across the world, the level of violence, oppression and ostracisation these women face is something you must have become intimately aware of.

But one woman in particular stands out in the lexicon of transsexual women for her bravery, activism and willingness to live her truest life and mentor younger transpeople to live theirs – Marsha P Johnson.

Johnson is best known as the instigator of the Stone Wall Riots, the singular event which snowballed into the civil rights movement for the emancipation of LGBT people and can be directly credited as the origin of many of rights, privileges and liberties that LGBT people enjoy today.

Because Marsha Johnson was never celebrated in life, she has become the subject of many documentaries, long read pieces and honorary films, many of which have been embroiled in controversy for inaccuracies, the centering of white people in the LGBT civil rights movement and the erasure or outright theft of trans and LGBT persons who often do the ground work of researching this phenomenal woman.

After the controversy that followed the last film to reference Johnson’s life work, STONE WALL, media giant Netflix has thrown its hat into the ring, funding a new documentary by film maker and journalist, David France. However, as David France’s film prepares to launch, he has been accused of co-opting and in some cases outrightly stealing the intellectual property of trans film maker, Reina Gossett, who has already been making and funding a film on Marsha P Johnson since 2014 called “Happy Birthday Marsha”.

According to a thread put out by trans journalist Janet Mock, Reina Gossett’s was first made accessible to David France by accident, when she and her partners applied for a funding grant to support the work they were doing on Happy Birthday Marsha. France who was a visiting lecturer at the grant, saw their work and asked the organisation allow him make the film instead, since he has more access to privilege and financial grants. David France has replied to the accusations on Twitter, suggesting this as an alternative:

It is tiring to see transwomen excluded from telling their own stories and celebrating the lives and work of the transwomen who paved the way for them and fought for the rights they enjoy because of privilege that heterosexuality and whiteness offers other people. This systematic ostracisation of transwomen is problem that eventually we have to address and solve.

Marsha P Johnson’s life and legacy should not be stomping grounds for people who will not attempt to give the people she sought to liberate opportunities to excel.

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