FREE CeCe documentary

This film confronts the culture of violence surrounding trans women of color. It is told through the voices of Laverne Cox and Cece McDonald.

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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. Expert interviews will be enhanced with filmed illustrations and graphic displays of information.

The Impact

  • 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.

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