Statement on showing “The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson”

Statement on showing “The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson”

Earlier this fall Empower Montana was connected to publicity and outreach team for the film The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson by the Pride Foundation and was asked if we would be willing to take the lead in having the film shown in Missoula and other communities across Montana. At the time we felt that exposing our fellow Montanans to this important story would be a helpful addition to our work with the Free & Fair Montana Coalition work and the Trans MT Visibility Project..

The weekend prior to Netflix releasing The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson on their streaming service Empower Montana staff began to see social media posts from and about Reina Gossett, who has accused David France,the filmmaker behind the documentary, of stealing her work. Reina Gossett is a transgender woman of color filmmaker and David France is a white, gay, cis gender filmmaker and journalist.

Empower Montana immediately took down all social media posts about the first showing we had scheduled of The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson because we did not want to participate in any action that would continue the erasure of transgender people of color and their stories. We also started to educate ourselves about the controversy around the documentary and the work of both Reina Gossett and David France. Finally, we checked in with transgender leaders who are part of our Empower Montana family, including transgender youth and transgender people of color, to make sure we were listening to their voices.

This is what we learned through educating ourselves and listening to our transgender community. Regardless of the controversy surrounding it in this moment, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores the life and death of an incredible, courageous woman who helped build a movement, and her story must be told—from different angles, with varied focuses. Secondly, the film illuminates the lack of law enforcement response to the death of a black trans woman and how the community through Victoria Cruz, a trans woman of color, elder in the community, and anti-violence advocate continued to pursue justice for Marsha. Marsha P Johnson and Victoria Cruz’s stories have a direct connection to the fight we are having right now against I-183, the anti-transgender bathroom ballot initiative, and the continued violence against transgender people.

The controversy surrounding The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson also illuminates how so few transgender women of color are afforded access, resources, and support in telling their own stories and those of their trans sisters and brothers. The question now is, how do we all work to change that?

For these reasons Empower Montana has decided to go on with our showing of The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson on Wednesday November 1st at the Roxy Theater starting at 5:30pm. We will be including a dialog around this controversy as well as discussing what we can do as a community to lift up the voices of storytellers like Reina Gossett and how we can fight the anti-trans I-183 ballot initiative here in Montana. Finally we will also invite participants to donate to Reina Gossett”s movie about Marsha P Johnson Happy Birthday Marsha here:


Empower Montana Staff

PS. We would like to offer a special thank you to Gunner Scott from the Pride Foundation for his insight on this issue and for helping us frame this statement, including writing some of the language in it.

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