David France reporter, author and documentary filmmaker best known for his book and ACT UP/TAG documentary How To Survive A Plague is facing accusations of theft and historical misrepresentation in his latest NETFLIX release The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.
Transgender activist, filmmaker, and writer Reina Gossett has accused France of stealing work from her to create his investigative documentary saying that France saw a grant application video she made about Johnson, decided he would make the movie, then erased her work from public records and used it himself.
This week, while I’m borrowing money to pay rent, David France is releasing his multimillion dollar Netflix deal on Marsha P. Johnson,” Gossett wrote on Instagram. “I’m still lost in the music trying to #pay_it_no_mind and reeling on how this movie came to be and make so much $ off of our lives and ideas.
David got inspired to make this film from a grant application video that @sashawortzel and I made and sent to Kalamazoo/Arcus Foundation social justice center while he was visiting. He told the people who worked there — I sh/*t you not — that he should be the one to do this film, got a grant from Sundance/Arcus using my language and research about STAR, got Vimeo to remove my video of Sylvia’s critical ‘y’all better quiet down’ speech, ripped off decades of my archival research that I experienced so much violence to get, had his staff call Sasha up at work to get our contacts, then hired my and Sasha’s ADVISOR to our Marsha film Kimberly Reed to be his producer.
France responded to Gossett and Mock on Twitter, saying he had a long friendship with Johnson, and claiming that he’d cleared the matter with Gossett before proceeding with the film. He also added that he supported Reina ‘s work.
After viewing The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson and as an LGBT historian who knew both Marsha and Sylvia Rivera who is also featured in film another disturbing problem is France’s insistence to leave out certain key points of Marsha’s life which could have attributed to her possible murder. including: Johnsons diagnosis as schizophrenia and on-going mental problems, details of her family situation and home life, her HIV status, and also her hospitalizations and arrests for prostitution and theft, thus sanitizing his piece and Marsha herself.
Marsha Johnson was a unique person. She was also a human being and had human problems and that is where France’s work misses the mark. It is not so much about the life of Johnson because so much is left out. TDALMPJ really more the story of Victoria Cruz from the New York Anti-Violence Project and her research of looking into Marsha’s death with an extrodinate amount of screen time given to the late Sylvia Rivera using footage that much of which was not vetted for accuracy.
Do I believe that Marsha P. Johnson was murdered? Yes I do. But with the amount of information purposely left out of France’s work I cannot come to the conclusion that his film comes to and if it was included it would shatter the narrative that he in a sense manipulated to achieve.
Marsha P. Johnson was an extraordinary person with a heat of gold who fought for all of the LGBT community’s civil rights. And while the archive footage in question is without a doubt fascinating and in my opinion the best part of this piece of work.