The Death And Life Of Marsha P Johnson Review

Marsh P Johnson
Photo: Marsh P Johnson

The Death And Life Of Marsha P Johnson



David France



Victoria Cruz






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Marsha P Johnson is often described as the Rosa Parks of the LBGT community. In an era of rabid homophobia, Marsha was the icon for the LBGT rights movement that sprung to life after the Stonewall riots. She had the trademarks of a perfect leader: vocal and unabashed in her demands for the fundamental rights; along with being kind, caring and supportive of her LGBT brethren. She was found dead in July 1992; her body floating in the Hudson River. Police noted her death as a suicide, but many close to Marsha suspect foul play. The fact that the police did very little to investigate her death was a visible sign of the rampant transphobia in the justice system during that time. While the rights of the LGB are recognised today, the last in the acronym have been left behind and injustice continues to prevail.

The documentary follows Victoria Cruz, an LGBT activist with the Anti-Violence Project, trying to bring justice to Marsha. There's very little evidence for her to work with, apart from the memories of Marsha's friends. They describe her worries of being followed by men, days before her death. The detectives who worked on her case are unwilling to talk, and there's a sense of powerlessness fighting for justice in a bureaucratic system where the case has been long forgotten.

Asking for justice in a cold case spanning decades back is harder when the present itself exhibits countless examples of injustice. The documentary makes this salient point following a present-day trial about the brutal murder of a trans-woman. When Marsha started the fight for the LGBT community, there was a belief in an equal progression of rights. Today, as Trans rights advance at a snail pace, they fall prey to hatred and there's very little sympathy extended towards them.

While the documentary sheds light on important issues, it fails to tell a story about Marsha. A few glimpses of her activism from the old footages are all we get. The life of Marsha feels unexplored in an unstructured documentary that juggles with too much. The journey of the Marsha we know today as an unapologetic activist is missing. Even in the interviews, the focus is solely on figuring out the culprit(s) behind Marsha's death. The true-crime tone of the show barely works due to the lack of evidence surrounding the case and it feels forced, as it tries to fit in the mould of other Netflix crime documentaries.

Still, The Death And The Life of Marsha P Johnson is a reminder that despite the progress in LGBT rights, the incremental changes haven't made life any better for the Trans community. With little concern from the general public, hatred against Transgenders - often in form of physical violence - is condoned by our silence. The world should change for the better. It's 2017 after all.

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