Marsha P. Johnson was one of the icons of the gay rights movement in the 1960s. She, along with her best friend and fellow activist Sylvia Rivera, formed the first trans-rights organization, Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1970. When Marsha’s body was found in the Hudson River in 1992, police called it a suicide and didn’t investigate. In David France’s new documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, trans activist Victoria Cruz “seeks to uncover the truth of her death while celebrating her incredibly legacy.”
“Almost single-handedly, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera touched off a revolution in the way we talk about gender today,” said France in a press release. “Their names should be household words. But Marsha’s life was cut tragically short and Sylvia died shortly thereafter, the victim of a broken heart. Getting to know their story through the investigation undertaken by Victoria, a seminal activist in her own right, has been one of the great honors of my career.”
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is streaming on Netflix.
Marsha arrived in the Village in the 1960s where she teamed up with Sylvia Rivera when both claimed their identities as “drag queens,” to use the vernacular of the times. Together, the radical duo fought arrests, condemned police brutality, organized street kids, battled the intolerant majority within the gay community, and helped spearhead the Stonewall Riots. Despite their many challenges over the years—bias, homelessness, illness —Marsha and Sylvia ignited a powerful and lasting civil rights movement for gender nonconforming people. Now, a quarter century later, at a time of unprecedented visibility and escalating violence in the transgender community, a dynamic activist named Victoria Cruz has taken it upon herself to reexamine what happened at the end of Marsha’s life. As the film dips in and out of jaw-dropping archival footage from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson follows as this champion pursues leads, mobilizes officials, and works to get to the bottom of Marsha’s death.
Image and synopsis via marshapjohnsonmovie.com