The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
Directed by David France
Self-described “street queen” and trans icon Marsha P. Johnson was a fixture on New York City’s Christopher Street and a pioneering activist who, often in collaboration with fellow trans pioneer Sylvia Rivera, helped ignite the Stonewall Riots, fought against discrimination and brutality by the police, aided queer homeless youth, co-founded with Rivera the world’s first trans-rights organization, STAR, and championed trans visibility in the community. Johnson’s life and activism, and her critical role in the Stonewall Riots, has received renewed attention recently, culminating in this riveting new documentary by Academy Award-nominated director and journalist David France (HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE). France structures his film as a mystery—perhaps even a murder mystery—with activist Victoria Cruz playing the role of detective investigating the still unexplained death of Johnson, who was found floating in the Hudson River in 1992. The NYPD ruled her death a suicide, but Johnson’s friends believed otherwise. As investigator Cruz re-examines the evidence and circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death, a portrait of the heady early and transformative days of the gay rights movement before, during, and immediately following Stonewall is revealed. France incorporates into this film a wealth of archival footage, some never before seen, and new and newly-rediscovered interviews, which help shed light on an important time in LGBT history but also speak to our present moment. Marsha P. Johnson stands as a vital and uncompromising force of her time and remains an important role model not only for trans and gender nonconforming individuals, but also for anyone interested in broader social justice issues.