There’s an online war of words over Netflix’s new Marsha P. Johnson movie

There’s an online war of words over Netflix’s new Marsha P. Johnson movie

Marsha P JohnsonPhoto: Box art

Filmmaker Reina Gossett is a black transgender woman and she’s laid some explosive charges at the feet of Netflix, the Arcus Foundation, and director David France. Gossett alleges that France stole her idea and research for her movie about the life of Marsha P. Johnson for his just released film The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.

“this week, while I’m borrowing money to pay rent, david france is releasing his multimillion dollar netflix deal on marsha p johnson,” Gossett wrote on an Instagram post. “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 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.”

France, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2012 AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague, quickly disputed Gossett’s allegation in a graceful statement released on Facebook but actress Janet Mock, also a transgender woman of color, amplified Gossett’s charge with her own series of tweets.

“Reina Gossett has suggested that I’ve stolen both the concept and footage for ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’ from her work, the experimental short narrative ‘Happy Birthday, Marsha,’ France wrote on Facebook. “I owe a debt to those who have kept Marsha’s story alive over the years. My creative work builds on theirs. But it is it’s own scholarship. 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. 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.”

“I admire Reina Gossett and look forward to her beautiful film. Alone among researchers, she has dedicated her work to the legacy of Marsha and early trans activism. Yet in terms of funding and support, I witnessed the obstacles she faces as an artist who is also a transgender woman of color, obstacles that have been far less onerous for me in pursuit of my craft,” France continued. “Racism and transphobia are hideous cancers. By joining my voice to the campaign for Marsha’s justice, I hoped to amplify that call, not complicate it, and to bring whatever attention I could draw to this history and those who defend it. But I have complicated it nonetheless. I know that history-telling is not a zero sum equation. But funding and cultural power can be. It is wrong that our projects have not received equal attention. I re-double my commitment to bringing ‘Happy Birthday, Marsha’ the attention and backing it needs and deserves, and hope that you will too.”

Mock, however, was not satisfied with a similar statement France tweeted to her directly, that ended with “Marsha’s and Sylvia’s inspiring stories have been told before and must be told again with 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.”

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

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