America’s horrifying, ongoing violence towards the trans community may be making headlines in 2017, but trans people have been all but forgotten by the media and their neighbors until quite recently. Enter the new Netflix documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, which explores the death of a pioneering trans woman (Johnson) in a time before Laverne Cox and Transparent. When Johnson’s death was painted as a suicide by police after her body was discovered in 1992, her loyal friend Victoria Cruz suspected along with many others that there may have been a police cover-up. Death and Life follows Cruz as she investigates the possible murder of her friend.
Directed by David France, who helmed the powerful AIDS documentary How to Survive A Plague, Death and Life features scenes of Cruz’s investigation interwoven with stunning archival footage of the early days of the LGBTQ rights movement. Johnson, who played a pivotal role in the Stonewall Riots, co-created the world’s first trans-rights organization, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), in 1970. Johnson and her STAR co-creator, iconic activist Sylvia Rivera, then overcame many challenges over the years — including homelessness and alcoholism — to further a civil rights movement for an entire generation of gender nonconforming individuals.
Judging by the trailer, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson promises to stir viewers and instigate important conversations. As one subject of the documentary puts it, “There’s a massive number of trans women who have been murdered, and they’re yelling out from their graves for justice.”