Director Jacqueline Gares was a showrunner for the long-running LGBT news program “In The Life,” which aired on PBS for twenty years. Before she found out that the show was ending, she had already started work on a segment about CeCe McDonald.
McDonald, a trans woman of color, was arrested in June 2011 after an altercation in Minneapolis where a group of white people started making racist, homophobic, and transphobic remarks to her and her friends outside of a bar. The incident escalated fairly quickly and one of the white men ended up stabbed to death with a pair of scissors pulled from McDonald’s purse.
Trans women of color are disproportionately targets of violence and current statistics only give us an estimated figure because many trans women, like McDonald, are misgendered by the police and news media. In this particular incident, all initial headlines and news articles referred to her as a male suspect. “Free CeCe!” chronicles McDonald’s imprisonment and the fight to prove that she killed the man in self-defense. Trans actress and activist Laverne Cox got involved in the story back in the fall of 2013 and she is heavily featured in the documentary conducting interviews and fighting against the standard practice of sending trans women to men’s prisons only to languish in solitary confinement.
Trans actress and activist Laverne Cox got involved in the story back in the fall of 2013 and she is heavily featured in the documentary conducting interviews and fighting against the standard practice of sending trans women to men’s prisons only to languish in solitary confinement. This is something that extended past this project as Ms. Cox took on the topic of solitary imprisonment in the most recent season of “Orange Is The New Black.”
Even though this film deals with the very heavy topics of racism, transphobia, and the prison industrial complex, it maintains an uplifting vibe thanks to the strength and grace that McDonald has on display at nearly all times.
Despite the fact that the court system essentially told her that her life was not as important as the straight, white male who attacked her, she maintains positivity and works on bettering herself and changing the system for others. Her visibility in this documentary has the power to do just.
“Free CeCe!” screened in the Documentary Competition category of this year’s AGLIFF. It does not currently have U.S. distribution.