A new documentary chronicles the mysterious death of transgender icon Marsha P. Johnson.
In 1992, American transgender icon and activist Marsha P. Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River in New York. Although her death was ruled a suicide, friends and acquaintances strongly believed otherwise. As with many deaths and disappearances of transgender women of color at that time, the police did not bother to investigate further despite public protests. The case remains unsolved.
In The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, documentary filmmaker David France depicts the persistent prejudice against the transgender community—then and now. The film follows the journey of Victoria Cruz, an activist from New York City’s Anti-Violence Project, who has taken on the task of investigating what really happened to Johnson to bring her justice. Scenes of Cruz calling retired cops and interviewing Johnson’s friends are interspersed with archival footage.
France had met Johnson in passing and remembers her as a vibrant fixture in New York’s West Village. When Johnson died, France was working as a journalist and asked to examine her case but was unable to do so because, as he says, “AIDS is what consumed me that year.” (He lost his partner to AIDS in 1991.)
In a press statement, France, whose last film, How to Survive a Plague, was nominated for an Oscar, said of his work: “I’m trying to tell the stories of people whose stories don’t ordinarily get told, of people whose lives embody that central American myth: that anybody, no matter how you’re born, can find power and prominence.”
Photography:© Leonard Fink