Many thanks to the editorial board for the coverage of the screening of The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson in the last issue of the Beacon. As the curator of Bright Lights, I wanted to take a moment to respond to the concerns raised. While the accusations of plagiarism have not been substantiated, the concerns about who gets to tell whose story are sound and merit discussion. An academic cinema provides us with the ideal opportunity to have these discussions in a thoughtful and deliberative manner.
The decision to screen Marsha P. Johnson was made back in July. When filmmaker Reina Gossett made allegations that director David France had used her scholarship without attribution last month, I reached out about screening her film, Happy Birthday Marsha and offered to encourage folks to support her. She initially agreed to screening the trailer but opted out when I began promotion and I respected her decision. I extended an open invitation when she was ready. I actively consulted with students and members of the administration about this difficult decision, recognizing that it would not be without controversy. Showing this film has furthered the conversation about important topics such as academic honesty, representation, and creative freedom.
David offered to participate and address the allegations; of course, Reina was afforded the same opportunity. David also offered to pay the travel expenses for trans activist Victoria Cruz, the main protagonist, to join the conversation. My philosophy has always been to encourage dialogue, however difficult. I thank filmmaker and Emerson professor Maria Agui Carter for moderating the lively and productive discussion after the screening.
I hope that everyone in attendance valued the opportunity to express those concerns directly to the creators of the film and I look forward to screening Reina’s film with her in attendance, when it is complete.