In 2011, CeCe McDonald was walking with some friends when they were attacked. While defending herself, CeCe accidently stabbed one of her attackers, leading to his death. Charged with murder and incarcerated in a man’s prison, CeCe’s story sparked a grassroots campaign fighting for her release. There is little doubt that CeCe’s identity as a black, trans woman was the reason for her inhumane treatment by her attackers and the legal system. Free CeCe calls to attention the fearful realities of living as a trans woman of colour and acts as an extended call to action to end the violence they face.
With Free CeCe, director Jacquline Gares is trying to be wide-reaching and accessible. It’s an admiral goal, but she never quite manages to strike a balance. The film bounces between being an objective, clinical look at violence against transgendered women of colour and a more emotionally engaged, passionate film. With the constant to and fro from one to the other, Free CeCe never quite settles into itself.
The film’s saving grace is its subject and executive producer Laverne Cox. Both women are extremely eloquent in their discussions of gender and race. More importantly, they are extremely passionate. Cox and McDonald provide the emotional connection that is missing from the film’s direction.
Free CeCe gives a platform to strong and fierce marginalized voices and that’s important. There are many genuine moments throughout the film that are truly moving, profound and horrifying. The overall film doesn’t quite mesh, but the content is so strong that this hardly matters.