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Whitewashed And Stole: Marsha P. Johnson, Reina Gossett, and David France


On Friday, October 6th, I settled in for a night of Netflix. But this night of Netflix would be epic, because Netflix had just released the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, directed by David France. The film follows the investigation into pioneering sex working black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson’s 1992 death by members of the New York Anti-Violence project. It also chronicles the trial of the murderer of 21-year-old Islan Nettles, a young black trans-woman who was killed on August 17, 2013. After watching the documentary, I grabbed my phone and went on Facebook, and immediately saw a screenshot of a disturbing post on France’s documentary by Reina Gossett on her Instagram.

Reina Gossett is a black trans woman activist and writer as well as the producer of Happy Birthday Marsha. On her Instagram that day, Gossett spilled the tea and accused David France, a white cis-gay man, of using and being inspired by a grant she and Sasha Worzel wrote to Kalamazoo/Arcus Foundation Social Justice Center for a movie about Johnson—France volunteered at the foundation at the time. Gossett also accused him of plagiarizing their language and stealing their years of research on Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s community organization STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and having her video of Rivera’s revolutionary and mainstream-gay-movement-critical 1973 “ y’all better quiet down” speech at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally removed from Vimeo. Gossett began her Instagram post by writing, “this week while I’m borrowing money to pay my rent, david france is releasing his multimillion dollar netflix deal on marsha p johnson.”

Author and activist Janet Mock hit to Twitter and tweeted out the screenshots of Gossett’s Instagram post. Mock stated that “[f]ilmmaker David France released a Netflix doc Friday about Marsha P. Johnson. It is based on Reina Gossett’s work”. Mock’s tweet garnered 1000s of retweets and likes, as well as a comment by France, which he had to write on an Apple note and screenshot to Twitter. (Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough to explain your white privilege and entitlement.) France also released a further statement responding to Gossett’s Instagram post on The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson website. He states that he was friends with Marsha for a minute and he wanted to do a documentary about her around the time of her death but he had to focus on the AIDS epidemic at the time. He also claims that his work was not stolen from or inspired by Gossett’s research and film making. He goes on to acknowledge his privilege as a white cis gay male.

Misérable Politics: Why Anne Hathaway Should Go-Away

Image from LesMeanGirls
Image from LesMeanGirls

In last year’s Les Miserables, a movie with a lot of famous people in it that will probably win some Oscars, Anne Hathaway plays Fantine, a single mother struggling to provide for her child. Fantine turns to prostitution in a moment of ultimate desperation, having already sold her hair and teeth—I know I’m not the only hooker whose first response to that was “Wrong order, girl”, but whatever—and she and the audience feel very sad. Then she’s saved, and we feel happy, but then she dies of tuberculosis, and we are sad again. At least she’s not a hooker now though. Phew!

No one is more concerned about Hathaway’s Fantine, however, than Hathaway herself, as evidenced by her various comments during the lead-up to the film’s release. One of the most circulated quotes has Hathaway outlining her research “into the lives of sex slaves, which are just unspeakably harrowing,” and her attempts to “honor” the experiences of women who are “forced to sell sex”:

 I came to the realization that I had been thinking about Fantine as someone who lived in the past, but she doesn’t. She’s living in New York City right now, probably less than a block away.  This injustice exists in our world.  So every day that I was her, I just thought ‘This isn’t an invention. This isn’t me acting. This is me honoring that this pain lives in this world.’ I hope that in all our lifetimes, we see it end.”

Meet The Fokkens (2011)

(Screenshot from "Meet the Fokkens")
(Screenshot from Meet the Fokkens)

Meet the Fokkens, a 2011 documentary directed by Gabriëlle Provaas and Rob Schröde, follows the lives of Martine and Louise Fokkens, 69-year-old twins who have spent many years as full service sex workers in Amsterdam’s red light district. At the time of filming, Martine was still working, albeit reluctantly, while Louise had been retired for two years because of her arthritis. Though the documentary’s main focus is the sisters’ careers as prostitutes, we also see their homes, meet their friends, and hear pieces of their personal histories.

In addition to its focus on a fascinating topic, Meet the Fokkens also presents a charming aesthetic experience. The movie involves many scenes of the Fokkens sisters in matching outfits, and at least one of those outfits is primarily pink! Louise brings her Chihuahua with her everywhere she goes. Even if nothing else in this movie caught my attention—which is not the case—the matching outfits and Chihuahua would have been enough to enchant me. But, happily, Meet the Fokkens is as intellectually engaging as it is, well, precious. The film does more than skim the surface—it delves into sexuality and labor through the exploration of the lives of these two women.

“Can you dig that?” Also Known As: A Willie Dynamite Review

Willie Dynamite is the story of a pimp, for the most part. But! Because I could care fucking less about how hard it is to be a pimp, or how difficult it must be to keep your women together, or whether he decides to get out of the game in the end, I will be focusing very little energy on him. Anyway, his clothes make it difficult to take him seriously. I mean, he starts the film off wearing what could loosely be described as a hot pink matador-esque suit with puffed sleeves. Yes, puffed sleeves.

I’m pretty much only interested in the women.

The film starts off with them strutting about, dressed in what I can only describe as my dream wardrobe if I lived in the 70’s (and now, I won’t lie. Knife pleats and capes are timeless). The hair is large, the lips are red, and it’s all to show that they are classy ladies or so we’re told. These are women who were on the street but were….upgraded, according to the film. It brought to mind something I heard many times last year at the Desiree Alliance Conference, presentation is everything. From your photos, to the text in your ads, clients decide whether you are “worth” your rate by how you look. Like Willie says, “We’re selling an idea.”

Let’s Talk About Pretty Woman (1990)

Editors Note:
There’s no sex work film as iconic as Pretty Woman, which is why we needed a total of three Tits and Sass-ers to tackle it. We figured we might as well start today, on Richard Gere’s birthday, with Bettie’s thoughts on the highest profile hooker with a heart of gold, followed by Charlotte’s take on Gere’s turn as provider instead of client in American Gigolo, and ending with an anonymous escort’s rebuke to the world Pretty Woman presents. Is there something about Vivian and Edward that still needs to be said after all that? Feel free to leave your own PW thoughts in the comments.

I have to admit, I’m not really a fan of Pretty Woman anymore. I used to be, before I started working. Now, though…

But it’s not because it’s an awful film. Indeed, it’s probably because it’s so good that I find it abhorrent. Even writing this review about it is getting on my nerves. That’s how far I’d like to stay from it at this point.

So, the story (as you all know) goes like this: Woman is a prostitute. Woman gives guy directions and ends up in his hotel room doing what prostitutes do when they are working. Guy’s kind of a dick…or socially awkward, whichever works for you, so he decides that instead of spending the week alone and perhaps trying to get another woman to spend time with him, he’ll just have Woman stay, for $3,000 and use of his credit cards. Woman thinks that’s swell. They spend time together (after she goes through a transformation the likes of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady…or Sabrina, without the trip to Paris) They fall in love.

The last scene where he’s on the white limo with the rose in his mouth is just, ugh. My nerves are bad. Why didn’t he use the Esprit SE? I would totally fall for a dude in one of those.