Marsha P. Johnson was an iconic African American trans activist who was instrumental in the Stonewall uprising of 1969 and subsequent campaigns for gay liberation in New York City. In addition to her activist work, Johnson was a popular drag queen who modeled for Andy Warhol. Her life is the subject of a forthcoming documentary entitled Happy Birthday, Marsha!, written and directed by Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel.
Johnson's life is also the subject of another documentary entitled The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, which was released last week by Netflix. Around the time of its release, Reina Gossett stated on Instagram that the director of the Netflix film, David France, had in fact stolen his idea for the film from Gossett herself, when he saw a grant application that Goessett and Wortzel had submitted to the Arcus Foundation. According to Gossett, "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." You can read an article about the controversy in Teen Vogue here—an excerpt is below:
Gossett goes on to allege that “David got inspired to make this film from a grant application video that @sashawortzel and I made and sent to Kalamazoo/Arcus Foundation social justice center while he was visiting. He told the people who worked there — I sh/*t 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."
She 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."
Transgender activist and author Janet Mock also took to Instagram in defense of Gossett, accusing France of taking her interviews and research for the movie without permission. "This brilliant black trans girl went about researching, archiving, and digitizing content that was previously inaccessible for decades," she wrote. "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. Meanwhile, Reina is borrowing money to pay rent as viewers around the world watch a film based on her unpaid, uncredited work." Mock called on her followers to support Gossett by hiring her as a speaker and teaching others about her work.
Image of Marsha P. Johnson via Tagg Magazine.