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Leeds Queer Film Festival- Pay It No Mind

Thursday 10 July 2014, by Ryan Ormonde

Pay it No Mind is a loving documentary tribute to the late queer rights activist and ‘saint’ Marsha P. Johnson, built around archive footage of a 1992 interview with the legend herself.

‘Pay it No Mind’ is what Marsha P. Johnson would answer whenever asked what the ‘P.’ stood for. It is no coincidence that the songs of Antony and the Johnsons are used on the soundtrack of this soulful documentary: the band was named after her, and a track on their first album, movingly and fittingly used in this film, was inspired by her. Marsha P. is practically the Rosa Parks of the LGBTQI rights movement: she was one of the brave drag queens – perhaps the first? – who stood up to the police raiding the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969, sparking the famous Stonewall riots. As one of the commentators in this film remarks, though many of us are now familiar with the actions of those original protesters, we don’t tend to think of them as individuals. And what an individual Marsha was. Incidentally immortalised by Warhol in a handful of Polaroids and screen prints, it was through her daily acts of kindness and her indefatigable commitment to the movement that Marsha became a walking saint in her own lifetime. That and her look, a glittering trashcan parade of love. Every frame depicting Marsha exudes her extraordinary persona: somewhere between Sylvester, ‘Little Edie’ of Grey Gardens and Jesus H. Christ. Filmmaker Michael Kasino tacks together memories the way Marsha fashions a floral headpiece: it ain’t fancy, it’s barely held together, but it beams out with compassion and sparkles with spirit.

So what can we learn from Marsha now? Somewhere in that ropy yet precious 1992 footage we hear her say ’You never completely have your rights - one person - until you ALL have your rights’. There is no question Marsha would still be marching now, not only to see through her mission of a pan-American fulfillment of gay, lesbian and trans rights, but to act in solidarity with the intimidated, beaten and murdered people all over the world today who do not fit with hetero-normative, cis-normative hegemonies. This film reminds us that pre-Stonewall, NYC was not a great place to be gay or trans, particularly if you didn’t have any money.

Yet somehow, the most striking thing for someone watching in 2014 from the relative safety of metropolitan England was how uncompromising Marsha was in her speech, her image and her actions. She was black, queer, poor and born in the 1940s. Her mother told her she was lower than a dog. Even though I have had far more privilege of circumstance, far more confidence instilled in me from an early age, and even though my middle name also begins with a ‘P’; I never knew what it stood for until Marsha told me.

Pay It No Mind is screening at the Leeds Queer Film Festival on Saturday 12th July

Tickets and more info: http://www.leedsqueerfilmfestival.co.uk/buy-tickets/

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