netflix marsha p. johnson documentary
netflix marsha p. johnson documentary

New Netflix Documentary About Stonewall’s Marsha P. Johnson Is Mired in Claims of Theft

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Last Friday, Netflix released The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, a documentary about the woman who reportedly threw the first brick at the Stonewall Riots. This weekend, however, filmmaker Reina Gossett accused Death and Life director David France of stealing not just her idea but her research.

In an Instagram post on Saturday, Gossett wrote the following, which we’ve edited for clarity:

#deepshare #realtruth This week while I’m borrowing money to pay rent, David France is releasing his multi-million-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 money 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. [He] got a grant from Sundance/Arcus using my language and research about STAR. [He] 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.

[He then] 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 ???.

#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

Transgender activist Janet Mock wrote an essay on Twitter backing Gossett’s claims:

Reina Gossett is a black trans woman who reintroduced our [generation] to ourselves by uncovering/recentering trans women of color revolutionaries. Her digital archives of movement foremothers Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera are integral to current understanding of their contributions.

She researched/archived/digitized content inaccessible for decades. She interviewed Marsha & Sylvia’s peers. She did this work without pay. 

A black trans woman’s work about a black trans woman was used to make a film by a credentialed white cis man aided by Netflix’s millions. 

Meanwhile Reina is borrowing money to pay rent as viewers around the world watch a film based on her unpaid & uncredited work. Not OK. 

David France replied to Janet Mock:

Many people, however, called out France’s privilege and questioned whether or not he was the right person to tell this story:

France, who also directed the Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague about the AIDS crisis, also wrote a longer statement:

A statement from David France, director and producer of "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson"In 1992, the year…

Posted by The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson on Sunday, October 8, 2017

In the final paragraph of France’s statement, he encourages people to fund Gossett’s film on Johnson, Happy Birthday MarshaHappy Birthday Marsha stars Tangerine‘s Mya Taylor in the title role.

While it doesn’t appear that Gossett has replied to France’s statement — and Netflix has said it has no comment — Mock didn’t accept his explanation: