Review – The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: October 9, 2017 (Last updated: February 8, 2024)

This documentary follows the life and death of Marsha P. Johnson. She was a gay African American who was a leading figure in fighting for gay rights from the beginning of the movement. However, in 1992 she was found dead, floating in the Hudson River.

Although this documentary is enlightening as we follow the life of an extremely powerful voice in the LGBT community, unfortunately, the documentary does not offer the high-quality coverage Marsha P. Johnson deserves.

The documentary does well to cover the difficulties that the LGBT community had with law enforcement, both back in 1992 at the time of Marsha’s death, and in present time. Officers quickly declared that her death was suicide, which was largely denied by those associated with Marsha. At certain points, credible leads are asked for a statement only to be denied. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson shows her influence and how loved she was by the community. The feature includes countless family members, friends and colleagues who bare witness to how amazing she was.

Unfortunately, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson presents its own downfall. There does not seem to be a solid direction. It provides evidence about her life as well as trying to fight for justice, however, it feels that just as the documentary sets one objective, it then takes you on another. As an audience, this makes it an extremely difficult watch. It uses some of its time to pay homage to Sylvia Rivera, who has since passed, and who had a close friendship with Marsha. The documentary also demonstrates evidence of hate crime cases and how minorities are unfairly treated by law enforcement, and one can only suspect it is because they are perceived as one of the most hated groups in society. This documentary suffers from not using the best of its time. It needed to demonstrate not only how influential Marsha P was in her community but also how the circumstances of her death were not taken seriously.

This documentary is certainly worth the watch, purely by its topic and the awareness it raises for such an important figure in the LGBT community. However, you are probably better off researching the history yourself.

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