Silver-tongued filmmaker and artist Reina Gossett modeled complexity and vulnerability when she revealed that noted director David France lifted major source material for his award-winning documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson. The documentary is quite possibly the highest profile work ever released on Marsha P. Johnson, the foremother of the LGBTQ rights movement who sparked the legendary 1969 Stonewall Riots by throwing a shot glass and demanding liberation in a Greenwich Village tavern in New York.
On October 6, the day France released his documentary, Gossett defiantly published an Instagram post explaining the disparity between her financial status after years of working on her yet-to-be released film, Happy Birthday, Marsha! and his “multimillion-dollar Netflix deal.” She believed The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson was born from a “grant application video” that she and fellow artist Sasha Wortzel submitted to the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College.
“This kind of extraction/excavation of Black life, disabled life, poor life, trans life is so old and so deeply connected to the violence Marsha had to deal with throughout her life,” Gossett wrote. “So I feel so much rage and grief over all of this.” The accompanying selfie displayed her in #BlackGirlMagic form—tilting her head back with her eyes closed, fully exposing her shimmering emerald-green eyeshadow. It was if she was basking in the glow of the sun and “paying it no mind,” as Johnson’s iconic catchphrase commands. In the left corner of the portrait, a figure almost peeks over the frame. It’s a tattoo collage featuring Johnson herself.