Black Trans Filmmaker Says Her Research Was Basis of Netflix’s Marsha P. Johnson Documentary

· Updated on May 28, 2018

This weekend, the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, chronicling the unsolved murder of the revolutionary transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, debuted on Netflix.

Within hours of its debut, however, Black transgender filmmaker and activist Reina Gossett has stepped forward to accuse the film’s director David France, director of Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague, of stealing from her own research to create the film.

In an Instagram post written on Saturday, Gossett accused France of ripping off of her own archival research to complete his film and sabotaging some of her own work, including getting video service Vimeo to remove a speech of Sylvia’s that Gossett had uploaded.

“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.

#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 😖😫😱

A post shared by Reina Gossett (@reinaxgossett) on

Gossett’s film, Happy Birthday, Marsha!, is currently in post-production, according to the film’s official website.

Gossett’s message began to go viral on Saturday and got a huge boost when transgender author Janet Mock amplified Gossett’s words on her Twitter account. The tweet, featuring Gossett’s Instagram post, was retweeted over 14,000 times.

“Filmmaker David France released a Netflix doc Friday about Marsha P. Johnson,” Mock wrote. “It is based on Reina Gossett’s work.”

France replied to Mock’s tweet with a statement screenshot. In the statement, France said that he has been researching Johnson, who was a friend of his, since he was a writer at the Village Voice in 1992.

“My relative privilege and long track record did not make funding this film at all easy (and left the production in debt),” France wrote. “Marsha’s and Sylvia’s inspiring stories have been told before and must be told again in many voices, especially by trans women of color who have an even harder time raising funds than we did. That’s why we fully support Reina and Sasha’s beautiful film.”

Mock dismissed France’s support in a response tweet.

“‘Fully support’ is an action, not an intention/thought,” Mock wrote. “Support looks like stepping aside, using your access/priv to produce Reina’s work.”

INTO has reached out to France, Netflix, and Gossett for comment and will update when we hear back from any of them.

On Sunday, France followed up his note to Mock with a note on his public Facebook page. In the post, he went even further in detail into his reporting on Johnson’s death as a Village Voice reporter.

In the statement, France also firmly pushes back against Gossett’s claims.

“My research team and I spoke with every friend and associate of Marsha and Sylvia Rivera’s that we could reach, and poured through a vast archive to arrive at our film, aided immeasurably by the Anti Violence Project, whose story is at the center of my film,” he wrote.

“We sourced, digitized, and licensed the archival footage. Our intention was always to have archival footage allow for Marsha and Sylvia to tell their stories in their own voices. Nothing in the film’s concept, research or execution came from anyone outside of this process or our immediate team.”

France ended his post by saying that he will “re-double” his efforts to get Happy Birthday, Marsha! funded and the film released.

The director and his production teamwill be honored alongside former Vice President Joe Biden this Wednesday at the Anti-Violence Project’s 2017 Courage Awards for his work on the film.

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