|Transgender activist Martha P. Johnson in one of her signature headdresses of fresh flowers.|
Marsha was a drag queen, a fixture of the Manhattan neighborhoods of Chelsea and the West Village. She was a hero of Stonewall, the 1969 riots that marked the gay rights movement. Marsha's broad smile and her kooky outfits led passersby who knew nothing about the gay rights movement to stop and speak with her. She sometimes gave them flowers or a string of beads she happened to be wearing.
In The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, documentarian David France (How to Survive a Plague, 2012) profiles his eponymous subject’s lifelong activism through an investigation into her death. In 1992, Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River; although authorities ruled it a suicide, fellow activists never accepted the finding. Neither did Victoria Cruz.
|This is a still of Ms. Cruz from David France's documentary. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)|
Through interviews with family members, lovers, friends and fellow activists, we get a glimpse of Marsha's charm, but France’s documentary is also a quest for understanding, a profiling of the cultural, political and economic forces that oppressed Marsha. They are emblematic of the forces that often fell heroes.