The debate over who threw that first brick during the Stonewall riots will rage on forever, but Marsha P. Johnson’s name will always be part of the conversation as she and fellow trans activist pal Sylvia Rivera were definitely on the frontlines of the historic event in June 1969. The next year the two would later form the world’s first trans-rights organization, STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries) based in Greenwich Village, leading Johnson to be dubbed “the Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement.” Any way you look at it, Johnson was an indisputably important pioneer whose story has inspired countless people, particularly gender nonconforming folks, to fight for their civil rights.
Unfortunately, Johnson wouldn’t live to witness the increasing visibility of the trans community – or, ahem, even meet Caitlyn Jenner, or even a portrayal of her in the ghastly 2016 fictionalized recreation Stonewall. In 1992, her body was found floating in the Hudson River, which the NYPD called a suicide, which Marsha’s close friends have always firmly rejected. Now acclaimed filmmaker David France is determined to set the record straight.
With his documentary The Death and Life of Marsh P. Johnson, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, France will chronicle the life, death and legacy of the activist. France enlisted veteran crime-victim advocate Victoria Cruz to reexamine what really happened to Marsha and look at the challenges that still face the trans community and along the way she burnishes the political legacy of a celebrated historical figure.
France says: “Almost single-handedly, Marsha P. Johnson and her best friend Sylvia Rivera touched off a revolution in the way we talk about gender today. Their names should be household words. But Marsha’s life was cut tragically short and Sylvia died shortly thereafter, the victim of a broken heart. Getting to know their story through the investigation undertaken by Victoria Cruz, a seminal activist in her own right, has been one of the great honors of my career. Now, with Netflix as our distribution partner, I am confident the legacy of these tremendous women will never be forgotten.”
The film, which marks France’s follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated How To Survive A Plague, will begin streaming on Netflix at an undetermined date later this year.