CeCe McDonald, a trans African American woman served a 41 month prison sentence for defending herself against a violent, racist and transphobic attack in Minnesota which resulted in the death of one of her attackers. Actress Laverne Cox is portraying an incarcerated trans woman in “Orange is the New Black.” Through a powerful in prison interview, and investigative filmmaking, this film confronts the issue of transphobia and the culture of violence surrounding trans women of color.
Told from the voices of Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald (exclusive interview shot in St. Cloud Correctional Facility) FREE CECE examines the culture of violence experienced by trans women of color.
Laverne Cox, (“Orange is the New Black,” “TRANSform Me,” “I Wanna Work for Diddy”) uses her platform to unpack some of the myths around violence against trans women. The case of CeCe McDonald is very important to Laverne Cox, as she states:
"But for the grace of God I could be CeCe McDonald. CeCe’s case represents a long list of instances of violence against transgender women who are disproportionately trans women of color.”
The events that took place in Minneapolis, MN on June 5th, 2011 at 12AM, which led to the death of Dean Schmitz and the incarceration of CeCe McDonald, are unclear. What started with derogatory transphobic and racist remarks hurled by Schmitz and friends as McDonald and her friends walked past Schooner’s Tavern on their way to a 24 hour grocery store, escalated into violence.
Here is CeCe’s account on her blog:
After being called everything from faggots to niggers, tempers escalated and I was caught in between the madness. A woman from the other group decided to throw her alcoholic cocktail in my face, and to add insult to injury, she smashed her glass cup in my face which lacerated my cheek and was deep enough to cut a saliva gland which caused painful complications later on after getting 12 stitches. When the police arrived it wasn’t hard to for them to assume who the aggressors were–surely, for them, it had to have been the group of black kids who started all this drama.
CeCe McDonald had local and international support for her case, and eventually pleaded guilty to an accidental stabbing death charge. CeCe stated she was holding fabric scissors to scare off her attackers, Schmitz rushed her and was stabbed in the chest.
FREE CECE explores the roles race, class and gender played in her case. McDonald’s claim of self defense was rejected by Hennepin County prosecutors. The documentary explores the implications of CeCe's story as a survivor, housing trans women in male prisons, and the practice of keeping trans women in solitary confinement.
As someone who supervised production on a national LGBT public affairs television show for over five years, I have witnessed the power of the personal story to educate, and change hearts and minds on issues faced by LGBT people.
As Producer/Director of the documentary FREE CECE, this project is important to me. I began researching this story when I was the Series Producer of the public television show, IN THE LIFE. When IN THE LIFE ended, in December of 2012, this project stayed with me. It seemed in the months following the show closing there was a new headline of a bias crime against a trans women of color. It is my mission to produce a documentary that confronts transgender bias crime, and bring humanity to its victims.
The film will begin by introducing two main voices: CeCe McDonald and Laverne Cox.
Through investigative journalistic techniques, filmed illustrations, and CeCe’s prison interview, we will examine the story of CeCe McDonald and the events on June 5th 2011. Why did CeCe chose to serve her sentence inside of a men’s prison facility? The prison interview will serve as a main storyline of the film. When CeCe is released in 2014, Laverne Cox will be there to follow up on her story. Through out the film other news stories involving bias crimes against trans women of color will be explored and reflected upon by Laverne Cox. I believe it will be important to show CeCe as a survivor, and document how she moves forward with her life after her release from prison.
This film will confront the culture of violence surrounding transphobia. There will be interviews with psychologists such as Dr. Karen Franklin who specializes in perpetrator motivations found in bias crimes, and the UCLA Project for the Psychological Study of Hate Violence and Pathological Bias. Expert interviews will be supported with filmed “illustrations” to enhance the information presented.
-Jac Gares, Producer/Director, New York, NY 2013
Laverne Cox - Co-Producer
LAVERNE COX is a critically acclaimed actress who can currently be seen in the Netflix original series “Orange is The New Black” where she plays the ground breaking role of Sophia Burset, an incarcerated African American, transgender woman. Laverne is the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show. Laverne is a renowned speaker and has taken her empowering message of moving beyond gender expectations to live more authentically, all over the country. Her insights have been featured on cnn, msnbc, hln, vh1, Fox News Latino and more.
In 2013 Laverne won Best Supporting Actress at the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival for her work in the critically acclaimed film “Musical Chairs” directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan). Laverne’s other acting credits include “Law and Order,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “Bored to Death,” and the independent films “Carla” and “The Exhibitionists.” Laverne is the first trans woman of color to produce and star in her own television show, VH1’s “TRANSForm Me” which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. Laverne is also the first trans woman of color to appear on an American reality television program, VH1’s “I Wanna Work for Diddy” for which she accepted the GLAAD media award for Outstanding Reality Program. She is the recipient of The Courage Award from the Anti-Violence Project, was named one of the top 50 trans icons by the Huffington Post, one of “Out” magazine’s Out 100 and “Metro Source” magazine’s 55 People We Love.
Jacqueline Gares - Producer/Director
JACQUELINE GARES is a New York-based filmmaker and freelance television producer. From 2009 to 2012 she served as Series Producer for IN THE LIFE on public television, during her tenure, the series garnered awards from NLGJA, GLAAD, and Webbys. As a freelance producer, Gares worked on television specials and documentaries for the History Channel, Food Network, and USA Networks. Her first documentary, about genetic testing and Alzheimer’s Disease, UNRAVELED, won a Freddie Award in 2008; her short film REMNANT won a TELLY Award in 1999. Between 1997 and 2001, she worked for PBS's premiere non-fiction film showcase, P.O.V./The American Documentary. Gares has a BA in English Literature from Rutgers University and an MA in Media Studies from The New School, her work can be viewed at: jacgares.com.
Connect With The Filmmakers:
UPDATE - March 04, 2016
Dear Friends and Supporters!
We are thrilled to announce that we have completed the FREE CeCe! rough cut and are now raising funds to finish the film for festival screenings. We will be posting an update when we have premiere information. Please stand by and if you are so moved, please continue to contribute to this film, we are so close the release to the public!
Thanks so much!
Jac Gares, Director
UPDATE - June 09, 2015
FREE CeCe! Home Stretch
As a powerful documentary FREE CeCe! will lift up the lives of trans women of color and the daily struggles they face in an oppressive society.
Now, it's time for post-production! We have completed filming and we are currently creating a rough cut. This process requires us to hire editors, purchase equipment and develop graphics. Your contribution will help us complete an amazing rough cut by Fall 2015, and ultimately release the film in 2016.
Please WATCH OUR EDIT SAMPLE
and GIVE what you can to help us make this film a REALITY.
UPDATE - September 10, 2014
Hello Supporters and Fans of the FREE CeCe Documentary!
We just wrapped a great shoot with CeCe and her mom, Christi, in Chicago! CeCe brought her boyfriend Larry, A.K.A. TY to meet her mother and we had a lovely Sunday dinner cooked by CeCe. We filmed interviews and b-roll non-stop!! It was a very productive shoot! Here is the link to our FB page which has some photos from the trip. Please LIKE the page as we almost have 10K likes!!
UPDATE - April 28, 2014
Help promote my fundraising campaign
Put our donation widget on your website