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LGBTQ Films Worth Getting Into On Netflix: ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’

In our “Get INTO” series, we rummage through Netflix each week to find the very best movies that LGBTQ cinema has to offer. However you identify, these tales of love, sex and the everyday experience of queer life all deserve a special place in your Netflix queue. Also, some of these films are super hot, so whether you’re alone or with a special ‘friend’, rev up everyone’s favorite streaming service and get ready to chill with some of the best queer movies on Netflix.

What is The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson? Back in 1992, friends and family were shocked when Marsha P. Johnson was found floating dead in the Hudson River. The NYPD refused to investigate further, believing that the “street queen” had killed herself, but new evidence uncovered twenty five years later in David France’s documentary tells a potentially different story.

Who’s in it? A popular figure in the queer NY scene, Johnson became known unofficially as “the Mayor of Christopher Street” thanks to the prominent role she played in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Old friend and fellow trans activist Victoria Cruz dives deep into her story through both testimonials and archival footage, exploring everything from her work with Andy Warhol to her outspoken support of the AIDS activist group ACT UP, which still carried on shortly before her death.

What does Rotten Tomatoes say? “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson uses its belated investigation into an activist’s murder as the framework for a sobering look at the ongoing battle for equal rights.”

What do we say? Remember Roland Emmerich’s bland and yet still offensive take on the Stonewall riots? In that embarrassing turkey of a movie, Johnson’s vital contribution to the burgeoning gay rights movement was vastly overlooked, so it’s comforting to see her legacy finally brought to light here in France’s documentary. In the brief glimpses of her that the archival footage provides, it’s easy to see why Johnson remains one of the most beloved representatives of the trans community, even if the film doesn’t include as much footage of her as we’d like.

So does France’s film miss the point a bit? Sure, it’s unfortunate that there weren’t more video reels of Johnson to draw upon, but rather than come up short, France uses this limitation as a strength, telling a wider story of transgender activism through the life of Marsha. Not only do we learn about the ongoing struggles that Johnson had to face, but we also learn more about the prejudice that trans people have endured from within the LGBTQ community. A clip of Johnson’s close friend, Sylvia Rivera, being booed off the stage at a a 1973 gay liberation rally serves as a stark reminder that the queer community isn’t always as unified as it should be.

So how did Marsha P. Johnson die? Given that the film is positioned as a true crime story of sorts, you’d think that France and activist Victoria Cruz would have uncovered more information about Marsha’s death, but just like in real life, things are never that simple. 

Pushing “Death” to the forefront of the title was a very deliberate move on France’s part, yet it’s ultimately Johnson’s life that takes center stage here, a vibrant and gorgeous thing that absolutely deserves to be celebrated still for the impact it continues to have on the LGBTQ community today.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is available to stream on Netflix now.


David Opie

David is a British journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Highsnobiety, Little White Lies and Sleek Magazine. Passions include Xavier Dolan, 'Jessica Jones,' and endless re-runs of 'Call Me By Your Name.'

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