I began researching this story with Laverne Cox when I was the Series Producer of
the public television show, In The Life. When In The Life ended, in December
2012, this project stayed with me. It seems each month there is a new headline
of a bias crime against a transgender woman of color. I became committed to
producing and directing this powerful, feature-length film that confronts
transgender bias crime with both rigor and humanity. I wanted to hear the
voices of victims who were all too often silenced by brutality; I wanted to produce a useful
film that sensitizes the audience and amplifies the authentic voices and lives of trans
The film will begin with the events that took place in
Minneapolis, MN on June 5, 2011 at 12AM, which led to the death of Dean Schmitz
and the incarceration of Chrishaun Reed “CeCe” McDonald, told from an in-prison
interview. Here is CeCe’s account on her blog:
“After being called everything from faggots to niggers, tempers escalated and I was caught in between the madness. A woman from the other group decided to throw her alcoholic cocktail in my face, and to add insult to injury, she smashed her glass cup in my face which lacerated my cheek and was deep enough to cut a saliva gland which caused painful complications later on after getting 12 stitches. When the police arrived it wasn’t hard for them to assume who the aggressors were–surely, for them, it had to have been the group of black kids who started all this drama.”
Although the actual events surrounding the death of Dean Schmitz are still unclear, CeCe eventually pleaded guilty to an accidental stabbing death charge. CeCe stated she was holding fabric scissors to scare off her attackers, Schmitz rushed her and was stabbed in the chest. She was sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison. The film interviews CeCe while she is in prison, and follows her upon her release in January 2014 and through her first year of freedom.
CeCe’s case elicited an international groundswell of support among social justice activists and trans youth. Through the voices of members of the trans community, as well as experts and advocates, the film explores the roles race, class and gender played in CeCe’s case. Actress Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black,” “TRANSform Me,” “I Wanna Work for Diddy”) uses her platform to examine the implications of housing trans women in male prisons and the practice of keeping trans women in solitary confinement. The case of CeCe McDonald is very important to Laverne Cox, as she states, “CeCe could have been me. CeCe’s case represents a long list of instances of violence against transgender women who are disproportionately trans women of color.”
CeCe’s story is important because it is often repeated and rarely reported. There is a culture of violence experienced by transgender people of color. The film juxtaposes CeCe’s survival with the story of Islan Nettles and other victims of trans-misogynistic attacks. Ultimately the film will confront the need for cultural competency training, public policy, and legislation to recognize the lives of trans people.
Status of Production
FREE CeCe, a feature length documentary film, is in the beginning of the production phase. We have filmed an in-prison interview with CeCe McDonald by Laverne Cox and interviews with CeCe McDonald's extensive Support Committee. We have also filmed the release of CeCe McDonald from the St. Cloud Correctional Facility, and the first week of her freedom. There are plans to film with The Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the Anti-Violence Project, as well as interviews with family members of victims of brutal trans-misogynist attacks, and follow up interviews with CeCe McDonald. Pending funding, interviews are scheduled for later in 2014 with psychologist Dr. Karen Franklin who specializes in perpetrator motivations found in bias crimes, and the UCLA Project for the Psychological Study of Hate Violence and Pathological Bias. Expert interviews will be enhanced with filmed illustrations and graphic displays of information.
- Raising $55,000 toward our production budget will help secure upcoming shoots in NY, MN, and CA.
- Perks include thank you credits; donations of $500 and up receive exclusive early access to view the trailer.
- Multiple funding avenues are being sought for this project. Individual donations through Indiegogo are an important part of fundraising for our production phase. More donations lend to a higher quality film; all donations, regardless of final total, will contribute to the production and distribution of the final film.
- This film amplifies voices rarely heard in the media. Its goal is to empower and engage advocates in the trans community and educate everyone on the important issue of violence against trans women.
- I am an award-winning television and film producer. For five years, I was the Series Producer of In The Life on public television. See more at jacgares.com.
Other Ways You Can Help
- Follow @FreeCeCeDoc for updates and tweet at us to lend your support!
- Share the link to www.freececedocumentary.net so your friends and family can learn more.
Team on This Campaign: