'Happy Birthday, Marsha!' a Film About Trans Hero Marsha P. Johnson, Seeks Funds to Finish


If the creators of Happy Birthday, Marsha! have anything to do with it, Stonewall won't be the definitive, incomplete story of Marsha P. Johnson.

Director-writers Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel, self-proclaimed activists for trans rights, set out to create a documentary about LGBTQ rights hero Johnson. They wound up with a narrative film starring Tangerine breakout actress Mya Taylor. Now, the creators are seeking donations on Indiegogo to complete post-production.

"It's been [46] years since the Stonewall rebellion, yet the leading role that street queens, trans women of color and gender nonconforming people had during the riots hasn't received the recognition it deserves," the production team wrote in their artistic statement. "By making Happy Birthday, Marsha!, we are seeking to change that."

As a trans woman of color, Johnson's story isn't the most Hollywood-friendly. In the case of Stonewall, her role was significantly reduced to make room for a white, cis, male protagonist. So Happy Birthday, Marsha!, depicting the activist's life in the hours leading up to the Stonewall riots, feels like a response to that, even if an unintentional one.

The film has received support from several foundations and funds, but for the actual production. Post-production costs — including for editing, graphics, a musical score and paying for film festival submissions — accumulate quickly.

This part of the filmmaking process is vital for making a movie look worthy of wide attention. Poor sound design or editing will only limit its potential audience who could see Happy Birthday, Marsha! as a niche film for queer audiences. Gossett and Wortzel's goal isn't niche, though; it's to tell a vital story to a wide audience.

"Despite the challenges we have faced, we have also received a considerable amount of support that has affirmed what we already believed," the production team said on their Indiegogo pitch page. "The world is ready for a film that vividly depicts the rich legacy of our historical transgender figures, like Marsha and Sylvia [Rivera], and their integral role in the modern LGBT rights movement."


With 61 hours to go as of this story's publication, the team is still looking for just under $8,000. According to the Indiegogo page, should the film raise enough funds, the hope is to start showing it in early 2016.