Trans filmmaker says Netflix debuted Marsha P Johnson documentary stole her work
A transgender filmmaker and activist has said that the documentary maker behind the Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson stole work from her.
Reina Gossett accused David France of stealing the idea behind the documentary which debuted on Netflix on Friday.
The documentary looks at the life of Marsha P Johnson, a black trans woman who played a key role in the Stonewall riots of 1969.
Gossett alleges that France had seen a grant application which she wrote for a video about Johnson.
She says he decided to make the documentary himself and then deleted the application from public records.
Writing on Instagram, Gossett said: “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.”
Going on she says: “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.”
Continuing: “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.”
Trans broadcaster and activist Janet Mock also defended Gossett on Instagram.
She wrote: “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 encouraged her followers to hire Gossett as a speaker and to teach others about her years of work.
France responded to the allegations, releasing a statement saying: “I learned of [“Happy Birthday, Marsha,” Gossett’s film] well into our work and reached out, worried we were duplicating efforts. We were not, as OUT has noted.”
He added: “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.”
France also tweeted in response to accusations that he stole the work, saying: “I stole nothing, and paid all artist collaborators. Reina thinks her work is in my film, but when she sees it she will know.”
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Johnson’s life ended in tragedy when she was found dead in the Hudson River in New York City in 1992.
New York police initially ruled that her death was a suicide, but Johnson’s friends insisted the police were wrong. Several alleged witnesses came forward to say they had seen Johnson harassed by a group of local thugs.
The Netflix documentary also recounts the icon’s life and story, alongside fellow activist Sylvia Rivera.
Many LGBT historians praise Johnson and Rivera for launching the modern gay rights movement in New York City. Johnson was also a veteran of the Stonewall riots, and later in her life became an AIDS activist.