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The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

This June, as we seem to sit in a world of chaos and great demand for social change, it is a pride month in which it is hard to ignore the work and life of Marsha P. Johnson. Many of us know her name as an early and fearless leader LGBTQ+ movement, and we recognize her beautiful ear to ear smile adorned in red lipstick and shining with positivity. But in all of her legendary efforts for the queer community, to understand Marsha is to understand her not only the light she brought to her life but also the controversy of her death. The documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson crucially investigates the case of her death and in doing so, exposes greater issue of violence against transgender people and perhaps the unresolved murder of several trans people in history.

The documentary follows the journey of trans activist Victoria Cruz as she searches to investigate Marsha’s death. This work that she took on with the NYC Anti Violence Project is a job that many argue was neglected by the NYPD directly following Johnson’s passing when she was found in the west river by Christopher street. In her search, she speaks with Johnson’s intimate friends and family. Many of those in the community were also leaders of the LGTBQ+ movement through strutting down “The Stroll” to rioting at stonewall. We learn that Johnson’s death is an example of many cases of its kind. It is that accustomization to shrugging the deaths of transgender people under the rug that ignited resistance in the queer community. And it is the light, bravery, and influence that Marsh P. Johnson brought to her friends and her movement that makes her story so compelling.

She is known and loved Marsha P. Johnson, but in this film she is also “The Queen of The Village”, the “Rosa Parks of the LGBTQ movement”, and “Pay it No Mind” Johnson. And seeing her in these lights, we can be inspired by her passion, style, courage, and kindness. Moreover, we may be inspired by what was fought for in her loss, and what she’s gone on to represent for our world today.

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