Netflix’s Marsha P. Johnson film rocked by allegations of uncredited use of Black trans woman’s work
Trans and non-binary people, especially those of color and who identify as Black, increasingly experience societal visibility, respect and fame. People increasingly recognize that every human being does not identify as a cisgender woman or a man and present in traditional ways relative those identities.
At the same time that average folks outside of trans and queer communities can name mainstream success stories and probably know people in their lives who possess these identities, people in the Black trans community say another familiar story is unfolding: an age-old tale of the privileged few laying claim to people in the margins and their stories to increase the privileged folks’ bottom line and access to shaping culture.
The debate over Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson’s legacy, and who is most equipped to do Johnson justice, rages. David France, a white, cisgender, queer man made the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson for Netflix, to widespread celebration and presumably for a handsome sum.
However, a Black trans woman named Reina Gossett said France’s documentary borrows from more than 10 years of work Gossett and her community did to connect with Johnson’s legacy. Gossett chronicled a creative process that included “archival research, interviewing, and collecting oral histories” to learn about Johnson and trans empowerment. Gossett shared with Teen Vogue that her own film Happy Birthday Marsha! will premiere in 2018.
As a cis, heterosexual woman I am not an authority on trans people or trans identity. But, I understand the experience of having parts of one’s identity marginalized. Further, I share the perspective that we often learn most about specific communities when people in and of them craft the prevailing narratives. To that end, the 1994 words of literary great Chinua Achebe come to mind. “There is that great proverb — that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”