The murder of transgender woman, Islan Nettles, coincided with my move to New York City in August of 2013.
I moved to 152nd and Amsterdam Avenue on Friday, August 16, 2013. The day after I moved to the neighborhood, Nettles was beaten into a coma just blocks from my house, at 148th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. The close proximity of this hate crime made me reflect on the rights and vulnerability of transgender women and men. I wondered if Nettles’ beating (and subsequent death) would transpire into something bigger for transgender people.
It did, and Seyi Adebanjo, an experimental filmmaker, was there to capture this moment.
One week after Nettles was admitted to the Harlem Hospital, she died from her injuries. Her murder shocked New York’s LGBTQ community. Harlem Pride, the community’s main gay rights group, took the lead and organized a vigil for Islan Nettles. But for transgender people, this vigil was a disappointment for a myriad reasons.
“You had this vigil that was organized by gay men of color,” Adebanjo said. “All the transgender folks who wanted to speak, they didn’t let them speak.”
Adebanjo, a queer gender non-conforming Nigerian, captured the anger and sadness that soon galvanized the transgender community to fight for their own causes. The filmmaker’s seven-minute film, Trans lives matter! Justice for Islan Nettles, is a mashup of photography, sound and video that crescendos in emotion. Most of Adebanjo’s visual work focuses on social justice and activism, and this one was no different.
“[Islan Nettles’ murder] makes you look at whose lives are disposable and don’t matter. These lives matter and my life matters,” Adebanjo said. “Our lives matter and we need to talk about it and show it being alive, so people don’t think they are crazy and alone.”
The seven-minute short film premiered in October on New York’s PBS channel thirteen as part of a shorts film festival. It was also shown at the Gender Reel film festival in New York in February (http://genderreelfest.com/).
Seyi’s next project is a 30-minute “lyrical, rich” documentary that looks at him/her as a queer non-gender confirming Nigerian who goes home to connect with the Orisha religion. It looks at the gender fluidity that happens in spirituality in Nigeria.
Kiratiana Freelon is an author and travel expert living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Follow on twitter: @kiratiana