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Filmmaker Tourmaline Announces Films About 19th Century Trans Woman

"Happy Birthday, Marsha!" director Tourmaline announces two short films about Mary Jones, a Black transgender sex worker from 1830s New York City.

In her Out cover story a couple months back, Tourmaline told executive editor Raquel Willis that making a film about Marsha P. Johnson was a matter of correcting the record. “The more we get to know her story, the more she gets to live,” said Tourmaline, who co-directed Happy Birthday, Marsha! with Sasha Wortzel. “Historical erasure is so real, and it’s only been in the past five years that we’ve grappled with her legacy.”

Perhaps that’s why the filmmaker and activist has set her sights on Mary Jones: a Black trans sex worker who lived in New York in the early 19th Century. Despite an increase in academic scholarship of Jones’ life in recent years, much of what’s known comes from court records and newspaper clippings from the 1830s, neither of which give all that much consideration for Jones’ humanity or interiority.

It looks like Tourmaline’s upcoming film work will imagine new ways to fill in those blanks. The filmmaker announced the project on Instagram Wendesday, revealing that she has been working on two short films about Jones that are coming out later this year — both starring Rowin Amone as Mary Jones and both executive-produced by Keanu Reeves (??!!). Salacia is a six-minute film that will play on a loop at the High Line park in New York this summer as well as at the Brooklyn Museum as a part of its upcoming Stonewall exhibition, Nobody Promised You Tomorrow (May 3). Mary of Ill Fame is a 25-minute short film about Jones that appears to be a more narrative project. It’s going to premiere “later this year,” the filmmaker says.

“[B]oth films take place in Seneca Village, the free black community in Manhattan that was demolished to create Central Park,” says Tourmaline on Instagram. “Thank you to everyone who supported me and this project, can’t wait to share the first part of it with the world NEXT WEEK!!”

RELATED | Tourmaline Isn’t Just Telling Our Stories — She’s Putting Us in Museums

Tags: Film

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