The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)


To accompany this film, I suggest supporting an LGTBQ-owned business for some cocktail and cooking accessories. Try which has a section of bar-ware, a great deal of cookbooks, including the incredibly relevant “Eat What You Watch: Cookbook For Movie Lovers” (

LGTBQ Film Series #12:

“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” (2017) is an American documentary film directed by David France, which chronicles Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, prominent figures in gay liberation and transgender rights movement in New York City from the 1960s to the 1990s as well as the co-founders of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The film centers on activist Victoria Cruz’s investigation into Johnson’s death in 1992, which was initially ruled a suicide by police despite suspicious circumstances.

The film is enlightening, especially for younger generations who grew up laws and social change reflecting a more tolerant society. However, it still brings to light the problematic nature of systemic racism and bigotry by showing how easy it was for the New York Police Department and their investigation teams to dismiss a case and a life without bringing it to justice, a startling reality that is still present today.

Marsha P. Johnson was a self-proclaimed “street queen” who spent her years tirelessly speaking on behalf of the LGTBQ community, bringing messages of hope and joy, but also relentlessly fighting for change. When she met an untimely death in 1992 in New York City, the NYPD wrote it off as suicide and failed to examine further, despite the suspicious circumstances surrounding her passing, including a gash found in her head.

Despite the information provided in the documentary and the popularity around it after it landed on Netflix, especially during summer’s pride month, it came to light that the emergence of the film came from other sources. The director, David France, got the idea from transgender activist Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel, after they submitted a Grant Application video to Kalamazoo/Arcus Foundation social justice center. He got “inspired” by their project, and told the foundation that he should be making it instead, managed to secure the grant, and released it on Netflix with a multimillion dollar deal. In an Instagram post, Tourmaline stated, “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.” (Source: It is crucial that we as a society, as supporters of the trans community, take into consideration the background of projects like this one, and ensure that we put our time and money in places that are helping not hurting.

To discover (after viewing) that a documentary investigating the injustice against a black trans woman was stolen by a cis white man from a black trans woman is so insidious that it both proves and undermines the justice it seeks to achieve. Instead, watch “Happy Birthday Marsha!”

“Happy Birthday, Marsha!” is a film about Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson and her life in the hours before she ignited the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, and it stars Mya Taylor no less – who made her breakthrough debut in “Tangerine” in 2015 – as Marsha P. Johnson. You might also recognize Cyrus Grace Dunham (“Girls” creator Lena Dunham’s sibling).

“Happy Birthday Marsha” thoughtfully pieces together re-enactments from figures in the current New York City trans universe, and clips from interviews of Marsha from her final days, including an interview between her and Andy Warhol. With some small, but haunting moments which deliberate on the poor treatment of trans people by police officers, audiences are forced to understand the gravity of the injustice carried out through this empathetic portrayal. However, it is important to acknowledge the historical inaccuracy of this film, as it appears to be an artistic expression paying homage to Johnson’s life, as opposed to an actual documentation of her life. The movie claims that Johnson was throwing a birthday party on June 28, the night of Stonewall riot. However, Johnson’s birthday was documented to be August 24. The movie claims that Sylvia Rivera was fighting with Marsha P Johnson in Stonewall riot, but her presence in the riot has been denied by many Stonewall veterans, including Johnson herself. The film depicts Marsha P Johnson as the first person to fight back the police, but this account is also denied by Johnson herself. Johnson stated that she arrived at the bar at two o’ clock, and “the place was already on fire… it was a raid already. The riots had already started.”

The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community in response to a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Patrons of the Stonewall, other Village lesbian and gay bars and neighborhood street people fought back when the police became violent. The riots are widely considered to constitute one of the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement and the twentieth century fight for LGBT rights in the United States (source: Wikipedia). Many eyewitnesses have identified Marsha as one of the main instigators of the uprising and thus, some have recognized her as the vanguard of the gay liberation movement in the United States.

http://Watch and support this film instead: “Happy Birthday Marsha”

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