Marsha P. Johnson is an important figure in queer rights. Happy Birthday, Marsha tells her story from the perspective of trans women creatives.
We launched Queer Stream during the height of the pandemic and we’ll keep updating this series of short essays highlighting great queer TV and film you can stream right now for as long as y’all tune in. The purpose of these essays is to bring attention to stories that might be overlooked or merit revisiting. Today we’re talking about the short documentary/biopic Happy Birthday, Marsha. This 14-minute film premiered in 2018.
Made by Tormaline Productions and Sasha Wortzel, Happy Birthday, Marsha brings together documentary footage of Marsha P. Johnson talking to the camera and a biographical frame on Marsha’s activism, chosen family, and response to police harassment. Portrayed by Independent Spirit Award Winner Mya Taylor, Marsha’s charisma, self-awareness, and indefatigable fight for queer rights jumps off the screen. Alongside her friend and fellow trans rights activist Sylvia Rivera, Marsha tries to live her life despite the hatred she receives from cishetero society. While state-sanctioned police violence plays a role in the film, it focuses primarily on Johnson, her birthday, the LGBTQ+ community that gathered at Stonewall Inn, and Johnson’s poetry.
What many people don’t remember about both Johnson and Rivera is that they were both bisexual women, so not only did their activism launch the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights, but as Black and Brown trans, bisexual women, they bridged so many gaps in our communities. Whether or not you’re familiar with their legacies—or that the first pride was a riot—this film should be considered required viewing. And make sure to check out this interview with the creators.
Queer stream Happy Birthday, Marsha at: Prime and learn more about buying a DVD at Tourmaline Productions
Queer characters: pretty much everyone, but specifically Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Junior