'Orange Is the New Black' Star Spotlights Violence Against Trans Women of Color

Laverne Cox's film, 'Free CeCe,' confronts the intersection of race, class, and gender.
Mar 28, 2014·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Laverne Cox may have found fame as the breakout star of Orange Is the New Black, but the transgender actor is still clear on one thing: The intersection of race, class, and gender isn't a safe space for her or her peers.

To get the word out about the culture of violence experienced by trans people of color, Cox and filmmaker Jacqueline Garas want to produce the documentary Free CeCe, to tell the story of CeCe McDonald—and the crowdsourcing campaign to make it happen is in its last hours. The film tells the true story of a black transgender woman from Minneapolis who served a 41-month prison sentence after defending herself against a violent attack.

In 2011, McDonald was out with friends when a group of strangers coming out of a bar began hurling racist and trans-phobic slurs at them. That turned into a physical altercation, with a woman throwing a drink at McDonald and smashing a glass cup in her cheek.

As McDonald brandished a pair of fabric scissors to defend herself, a man named Dean Schmitz rushed her. Police and prosecutors refused to believe that it was a case of self-defense. McDonald ended up pleading guilty in the death of Schmitz and was convicted of second degree murder.

If the crowdsource-funded film's Indiegogo campaign succeeds, the film will follow McDonald's time incarcerated in a men's prison, her January 2014 release, and her first year of freedom. Cox and Garas hope Free CeCe will help "confront the need for cultural competency training, public policy, and legislation to recognize the lives of trans people."