Gossett: Janet Mock
’s Instagram account
The director of the new Netflix doc “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
,” David France
, has come under fire for allegedly stealing ideas and research from Reina Gossett. Gossett, a filmmaker and activist, took to Instagram to accuse France of pilfering the concept for “Marsha P. Johnson
” after seeing the grant application video she and Sasha Wortzel
sent for their short narrative film, “Happy Birthday, Marsha!”
Both Gossett and Wortzel and France’s projects center of Marsha P. Johnson
, an Lgbt activist, Stonewall vet, and trans woman. “Happy Birthday” reimagines Johnson and fellow activist Sylvia Rivera
’s lives in the hours leading up to the Stonewall Riots. As its title suggests, France’s documentary explores Johnson’s life as well as the mysterious circumstances surrounding her 1992 death, which was originally deemed a suicide before being investigated as a possible homicide 20 years later.
According to Gossett, France saw the video she and Wortzel sent to the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College and decided to claim the project for himself. “He told the people who worked there — I shit you not — that he should be the one to do this film,” Gossett said on Instagram. She says that France then received a grant from Sundance/Arcus, stole her research, asked Wortzel for their creative contacts, and hired “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” advisor Kimberly Reed
as a producer.
Gossett, who is a black trans woman, added: “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.”
, a trans activist and writer, voiced her support of Gossett on Instagram. “Reina is a black trans woman who reintroduced our generation to ourselves by uncovering and recentering trans women of color revolutionaries…This brilliant black trans girl went about researching, archiving, and digitizing content that was previously inaccessible for decades. 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,” she wrote. “These are our stories, our lives and we will not be erased or silenced.”
France, who previously helmed the AIDS crisis doc “How to Survive a Plague
,” denied appropriating Gossett’s work on Twitter. “I learned of [‘Happy Birthday, Marsha’] well into our work and reached out, worried we were duplicating efforts. We were not.” He continued: “Marsha’s and Sylvia’s inspiring stories have been told before and must be told again with many voices, especially by trans women who have an even harder time raising funds than we did. That’s why we fully support Reina and Sasha’s beautiful film.”
We’ll have to see how the situation plays out, but Gossett’s voice needs to be heard. Non-white trans stories are seldom told and when they are, they are usually shared from a white cis perspective. Even if the research and concepts of “Happy Birthday” and “Marsha P. Johnson
” are completely distinct, it’s worth remembering that France’s film is the one receiving the attention, accolades, and money.
Reina Gossett Says “Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
” Director Stole Her Work was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.