Reina Gossett is a visionary and her work deserves prestige and compensation.
As a writer and an organizer, I get a warm flush a few times a month when I get a shout out on social media from my many peers and colleagues in queer feminist POC networks. The last one that gave me real pause was the incomparable make-up artist Umber Ghauri of Brown Beauty Standards who let the world know that I did one of my usual backstage hook-ups for a great campaign celebrating trans women’s beauty for the End Violence Against Women campaign.
Reina Gossett is a historical researcher, writer, filmmaker and activist who has been receiving the antithesis of the aforementioned warm treatment that comes from community solidarity and compassionate collaboration. She’s been done real dirty in the furore which has surrounded the Netflix documentary film “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”. If you are unfamiliar with what I am talking about, Gossett accused David France, the director, of capitalizing on her years of research and ideas for the film.
I spoke with David France, just to get a measure of the man. I was not interested in the pernickety back and forth of accusations, allegations, defensiveness and labored partial truth seeking. The expansion of digital media has enlarged the court of public opinion exponentially to an extent that would boggle the minds of television watchers. In this era where many are concerned about the not-that-new phenomenon of ‘fake news’, the thoroughness of journalistic endeavor hasn’t been diluted across the board. It seems that David France believes that because he had “trans and gender non-conforming people from the very top of our production to the bottom of our production” that it could exempt him from criticism of his cisgender white gaze and perhaps even invalidate Reina’s claims that her labor was exploited.
As people of color we are told to work twice as hard to get half as much, and by France’s own admission this seems quite true: “I started filmmaking five years ago when I made ‘How to Survive a Plague’ and they took me by the hand at places like Sundance and The Ford Foundation and they gave me a community. They gave me power to make film. They gave me money. They gave me a lot of money.”
France received a huge leg-up in a competitive industry that does not value the voices, energies, work and lives of trans women of color. The fact that a ladder was not thrown down to a woman, whom he sat next to for hours imbibing the energy and aura of, is dishonorable.
The truth that I see is that my trans sisters and I are out here getting drained of our unique experiential knowledge, fruits from the labor of a survival that is far from assured and the social cachet from a visibility that leaves us even more vulnerable to the violence which is claiming our lives. I don’t have Reina’s fortitude in that I can’t get “lost in the music and #payitnomind” in the way she has been inspired to by the ancestral force of Marsha that pumps through her soul and spirit.
The mental turmoil of being underemployed/unemployed black trans women and having to send emails, texts and DM’s begging your community to help you survive just one more day is eating away at us. Reina Gossett is a visionary and the merit of her work which imagines a world beyond binaries, prisons and multitudinous oppressions deserves accolades, prestige and right now it deserves compensation.
David France is still very much what the colonized mind of my Jamaican grandmother would describe as “a nice white man”. When I asked him how the controversy around the documentary would impact him and the stories he chooses to tell in the future, he responded, “Well you know my goal is to tell stories about people who are underrepresented in our community…LGBTQ stories. I am drawn to them most and have been for most of my career.” It’s the perfect pageant response one would expect from a cisgender ally who sleeps easier knowing that they employed yet another trans person today. Yet, the windy hollowness that eviscerates the word ally is the inconsistency I’ve come to expect from them dropping the ball, however frequently or occasionally.
Journalistic investigations paint Reina Gossett’s anger as that of yet another “crazy black woman” whose anger is rabid and unjustified. I still stand with her. As Viola Davis elegantly reminded us in her Emmy award speech, Reina is just another black woman missing one thing: opportunity.
Editor’s Note: David France contacted the publication with concerns regarding this article and stated that he strongly denies Gossett’s claims.
A previous version of this piece mistakenly said that France is cisgender and heterosexual, he is not heterosexual, but gay and we apologize for the error.
Featured Image: Photograph by Nathan Fitch of Mya Taylor as Marsha P. Johnson.