Reina Gossett discusses “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” at Tulane

Josh Axelrod, Associate Editor

“We are working to transform oppression through art,” Director Reina Gosset said as she introduced “Happy Birthday, Marsha!”, a short film about black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, directed by Gosset and Sasha Wortzel.

On Oct. 8, the Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity screened a rough cut as part of Tulane’s annual pride month.

The filmmakers said they are hoping to address the violence and brutality transgender black women face while celebrating the humanity of the movement.

Johnson was an integral member of the LGBTQ* community in the ’60s and celebrated for her distinctive and unapologetic personality, according to Gosset and Wortzel. Johnson was a driving force in the Stonewall Riots, an event many historians consider the most significant event leading up to the gay liberation movement.

Gossett and Wortzel met at what they described as a “queer party” and decided to work together on an independent film project. The two have dedicated their time to researching Johnson and other monumental figures in transgender history. Originally intending to make a documentary, the filmmakers shifted their focus to a short-form narrative film using their research as a “creative jumping-off point.”

“I started thinking it’s really important to show the beauty of black trans people on screen,” Gossett said. “Art may not have transformed everybody’s world, but it transformed my world.”

“Happy Birthday, Marsha!” tells the story of a single day in Johnson’s life, which culminates at the beginning of the Stonewall Riots. The filmmakers portray her relationships with other members of the LGBTQ* community and reference the looming police threat.

Marsha was found dead in the Hudson River in 1992. Initially ruled a suicide, the New York Police Department reopened the case in 2012 as a potential homicide, which many people believe was a hate crime.

Director of the O Red Tremmel said he was both touched and unsettled after watching the film.

“I was very moved by it,” Tremmel said. “I thought that there was a lot of contrast of beauty, celebration, pleasure and the things that made life meaningful for their community, and you could feel, through the soundtrack and other elements, the pending violence of the police.”

Tremmel helped to organize the event to highlight diverse voices and stories at Tulane.

“One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is bring groundbreaking filmmakers to campus who are showing representations of trans experiences and trans history because there’s hardly any of those representations on any media,” Tremmel said.

Freshman Lydia Bell said they felt the event was truly unique and added to a climate of acceptance at Tulane.

“Diversity and inclusivity is all about thinking about people who are different from you and bringing them in, so events like this help shorten that gap,” Bell said.

“Happy Birthday, Marsha!” is still in production and is set for release to the general public in 2017.