Read

User menu

Search form

"Free CeCe!" Explores Prison Abolition and Anti-Trans Anti-Black Violence

"Free CeCe!" Explores Prison Abolition and Anti-Trans Anti-Black Violence
Fri, 9/9/2016 - by Dana Sayre

More than 50% of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims are transgender women of color, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. The NAACP reports that African-Americans and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, Trans Equality states that 21% of transgender women and nearly half (47%) of black transgender people have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. It is in this context that the life of a black bisexual trans woman named Chrishaun Reed “CeCe” McDonald must be understood.

In 2012, on her way to the store with a group of friends, CeCe was brutally attacked. A wounded man who was defending her life was killed. When police arrived on the scene, CeCe was presumed guilty despite a very visible and bleeding facial wound. After a coercive interrogation following her trip to the hospital, CeCe was incarcerated in a men’s prison in Minnesota and sent to solitary confinement.

An international campaign to free CeCe garnered significant support from media and activists, including actress Laverne Cox ("Orange is the New Black"). It was through this activism and support that CeCe’s sentence was ultimately reduced from murder to manslaughter. Since her release from prison, CeCe has dedicated herself to education and activism, joining the fight to end wrongful imprisonment and increase education about the biases and inequalities present in America’s criminal justice system. CeCe's powerful story – told in "Free CeCe!," a documentary directed and produced by Jacqueline Gares and executive produced by Laverne Cox, which screens at the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) this Saturday, Sept. 10 – highlights the groundswell of voices questioning the prison industrial complex and calling for its abolishment.

In an interview with Occupy.com, Gares said she first became aware of CeCe’s story when working on an LGBTQ television series called “In the Light.” Gares recalled that she was always scouring headlines for LGBTQ stories to highlight on the show, and that she had originally intended to do a segment on CeCe’s story back in 2012. CeCe’s name came up when Gares approached Cox to join “In the Light” as a producer, long before Cox had risen to her current position of media notoriety. “In the Light” ended before the CeCe segment had a chance to air, but after Cox received clearance to film a visit with CeCe at St. Cloud.

Gares returned to work as a freelance producer, and in March 2013 she heard Cox speaking publicly about CeCe, the injustices in American prisons and law enforcement, and violence against trans women of color. Gares said she recalled thinking, “Why hasn’t anybody done anything about this?” She immediately set up a meeting with Cox in New York City to pitch the idea of turning the segment about CeCe’s story into a film. Gares said she was interested in what life was going to be like for CeCe, and what it would mean for her to be free. “We just went for it,” Gares said. “We picked up where we left off with pre-production [for the original segment]. I made phone calls. I wrote letters to CeCe in prison.”

“[CeCe] was really excited,” Gares remembered. “She had been really depressed, too, when the show had been canceled.” Cox got some time off from filming "Orange is the New Black" for Thanksgiving in 2013, and she flew to Minnesota to visit CeCe in prison. “It was pretty amazing,” Gares said. “I didn’t know how amazing it would be. It was so powerful, that in-prison interview, and we did another interview when CeCe was released.”

Those first two interviews are the basis of the documentary, which unpacks the racism, sexism and transphobia that lead to CeCe’s conviction and imprisonment. “I’m a white, cis lesbian. My eyes were opened making this film,” admitted Gares, who said she had known that the prison system was problematic, but “prison abolition – what's that? I didn’t know.” Gares said she started researching the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the works of Angela Davis to help her understand the prison industrial complex, and set up an interview between CeCe and Davis as a part of the film. “It was incredible and gave a lot of life to the production to have Angela Davis talk with CeCe about her time in prison and what it means afterward. It was powerful and will stay with all of us," Gares said.

“I wanted the film to show how CeCe was not ever seen as a victim or someone who was attacked. She was completely criminalized," she continued, saying that it was also important to show that it was the system itself that was oppressive to CeCe, not the other prisoners. “People think she was being harassed, and the victim of violence from the other prisoners."

But Gares said CeCe debunked all of those misconceptions, finding ways to create a climate of mutual respect and communication in the prison where the inmates all learned from and educated one another. “Every misconception I ever had was dismantled by CeCe herself. That’s what the prison industrial complex doesn’t want you to know. That’s what I wanted to translate to the film,” she said.

“CeCe’s story is important because it is often repeated and rarely reported. The frequency and severity of violence directed toward trans women of color must end. I wanted to produce a useful film that sensitizes audiences and amplifies the voices and lived experiences of trans women of color. "Free CeCe!" is a call to action for a cultural shift. We need cultural competency training, public policy and legislation to recognize the humanity, dignity and authentic lives of trans people.”

For people who want to make a difference in the prison abolition movement, Gares suggested getting involved with organizations like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Critical Resistance and Black and Pink. For reading, she suggested The Abolitionist and, Captive Genders and The New Jim Crow, among others. Writing letters to the incarcerated and looking at the laws in the places that you live are other ways to get involved.

Gares said she hopes "Free CeCe!" will be available streaming as soon as 2017, but right now her focus and priority is to make sure the film gets educational distribution so that it can be shown at universities across the United States.“I hope we’ll get a mainstream audience for the film,” Gares said. “I want it to be seen by as many people as possible.”

The next screening of "Free CeCe!" is Saturday, Sept. 10 at aGLIFF.

Sign Up

Article Tabs

Goma water movement, Lucha, Congolese fighting, Congo war, grassroots movement, access to safe water

The Congolese group Lucha successfully mobilized thousands to march for the right to water in the city of Goma. Now, the group is challenging the regime of President Joseph Kabila.

A special episode dedicated to the most militarized land in the world—one that you may not even have ever heard of.

Restoring Internet Freedom Order, FCC rules, net neutrality, Internet freedom, fast line, Big Telecom, telecommunications industry, Ajit Pai

Access matters, and unequal access can have onerous consequences for those who can’t afford the fast lane.

Brexit, Brexit opposition, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, no-deal Brexit

“This historic defeat will show that the government is deadlocked – and we now need to throw this back to the people and give them a final say," said Paul Butters of Best for Britain.

manosphere, incels, misogyny, black men, black women, racism, sexism, Black Manosphere

In response to the racism often targeted exclusively toward black men on majority white digital spaces, black males have created their own manosphere – where they rail against black women.

Goma water movement, Lucha, Congolese fighting, Congo war, grassroots movement, access to safe water

The Congolese group Lucha successfully mobilized thousands to march for the right to water in the city of Goma. Now, the group is challenging the regime of President Joseph Kabila.

#climatestrike, COP24, UN climate talks, carbon emissions, catastrophic climate change, climate movement, climate protests, climate demands

"Science has clearly told us that we need to act now to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming," the young climate activist said in calling for a day of global action on Friday.

A special episode dedicated to the most militarized land in the world—one that you may not even have ever heard of.

Global investors managing $32tn are urging governments to phase out all coal burning. Photograph: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Global investors managing $32 trillion issued a stark warning to governments at the UN climate summit on Monday, demanding urgent cuts in carbon emissions and the phasing out of all coal burning.

Restoring Internet Freedom Order, FCC rules, net neutrality, Internet freedom, fast line, Big Telecom, telecommunications industry, Ajit Pai

Access matters, and unequal access can have onerous consequences for those who can’t afford the fast lane.

rising emissions, climate catastrophe, Global Carbon Project, climate impacts, carbon emissions, carbon cuts

According to a new Global Carbon Project report, emissions are heading in the opposite direction to the deep cuts that are urgently needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Posted 5 days 13 hours ago
rising inequality, income inequality, global wealth, costs of inequality

Americans pay a steep price for not spreading their wealth around as well as other developed countries.

Posted 5 days 13 hours ago
Brexit, Brexit opposition, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, no-deal Brexit

“This historic defeat will show that the government is deadlocked – and we now need to throw this back to the people and give them a final say," said Paul Butters of Best for Britain.

Posted 4 days 4 hours ago

A special episode dedicated to the most militarized land in the world—one that you may not even have ever heard of.

Posted 2 days 12 hours ago
Restoring Internet Freedom Order, FCC rules, net neutrality, Internet freedom, fast line, Big Telecom, telecommunications industry, Ajit Pai

Access matters, and unequal access can have onerous consequences for those who can’t afford the fast lane.

Posted 3 days 15 hours ago
Brexit, Brexit opposition, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, no-deal Brexit

“This historic defeat will show that the government is deadlocked – and we now need to throw this back to the people and give them a final say," said Paul Butters of Best for Britain.

A special episode dedicated to the most militarized land in the world—one that you may not even have ever heard of.

Global investors managing $32tn are urging governments to phase out all coal burning. Photograph: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Global investors managing $32 trillion issued a stark warning to governments at the UN climate summit on Monday, demanding urgent cuts in carbon emissions and the phasing out of all coal burning.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Medioimages/Photodisc/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

By doing away with single-family zoning, the city takes on high rent, long commutes, and racism in real estate in one fell swoop.

Protesters on Sunday in Katowice, which is hosting the UN climate conference. Photograph: Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium/Barcroft Images

The move shocked delegates at a UN conference in Poland as ministers flew in for the final week of climate talks.