For anyone who’s paying attention to trans communities, the major theme of the documentary FREE CECE! will be familiar: the life-threatening violence, misogyny, and assumed criminality that trans women of color experience. Trans people—especially women of color—die at alarming rates, and the media is filled with stories about people who’ve been killed for running to the grocery store or hanging out with their friends. While this documentary digs at complicated emotions, policies, and bigotry, also delving surprisingly deep into the prison industrial complex and its practical implications for trans people, it has a twist: this story is a (relatively) hopeful one.
CeCe McDonald was viciously attacked, and she stabbed her attacker in self-defense. Her survival was rewarded with incarceration in a men’s prison. She served 19 months in jail and was cornered into a plea bargain that contradicted what she knew to be true: she acted to save her own life. But there’s hope in the impressive, relentless, passionate activism of trans communities across the globe that came together to call for her release. There’s hope in the film itself, seeing the systemic issues and personal stories laid side-by-side with grace and thoughtful, motivating pain. And there’s hope for audiences when they see McDonald back in her own clothes, speaking freely and calling others to organize.