New Film "TransParent" Remembers Teen's Life, Not Her Death

A black and white photo of Lyniece Nelson gazing at a picture of her daughter, Shellye "Treasure" Hilliard.

The statistics from the 2011 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs are grim. Trans people were almost two times as likely to experience injuries than cis people. Transgender people of color were 28 percent more likely to experience physical violence compared to people who were not transgender people of color. And people under 30 were the most likely to experience sexual and physical violence.

New film TransParent is going beyond the statistics to share the story of one trans woman who was killed in 2011--and to show how violence against trans folks affected her family, community, and city.

TransParent--which is currently fundraising on Kickstarter to cover its final production costs--focuses on the life of Shelley "Treasure" Hilliard, who was horrifically murdered in 2011 in Detroit. Only 19 years old, Hilliard was an active member in Detroit's LGBTQ youth community, and her death shook the activists, family, and friends around her.

This film will offer an important counterpoint to mainstream media that dehumanizes trans women both in life and in death. It looks like TransParent  will not only honor the story of one mother and her daughter, but also address larger issues of the criminal justice system, people in struggle, the trans community of Detroit, and more. 

Veteran music journalist and media maker dream hampton (she's responsible for the gorgeous "QueenS" video) has teamed up with producer and activist Natasha Miller to make the film. Both Detroit natives, the two women are conscious and accountable for their cis privilege. Here's what dream hampton wrote about the project: 

I was uncertain about directing a film.... I didn't want to be a part of another voyeuristic film about trans misogyny and  trans violence that provoked sympathy, but reinforced distance.... Being an ally is about taking direction, not having an agenda. When the beautiful documentary Paris Is Burning was released in the early 90s, I was one of many who questioned the privilege and gaze of a white woman filmmaker who'd trained her lens on the black and poor and queer. I didn't want to fetishize violence against trans women of color. So many of the reports in liberal media that detailed the horrific violence committed against Black and trans bodies seem like more trans phobia to me, where trans peoples' deaths, not their lives, are the focus.

But Shelley's life and death intersect with so many issues I'm passionate about, issues I've never felt I had the time or energy or resources to fully explore or develop as narratives. Prosecution of sex crimes, of small drug possession and coercion by the police are all practices that work in concert to populate our prisons. I care about all these issues. I care about Black girls in Detroit. I care deeply about the Black and queer community, enough to seek counsel, and yes, direction, as I proceed with this project. I care about Shelley's death, but I care as much or more about her life. She wasn't beloved because of her violent death, she was beloved because of her brave and beautiful life. 

If the Kickstarter video is any indication, the film will be difficult watch—but an important, beautiful one as well. There's only one week left—one week!—to support the film, but you can absolutely help the filmmakers reach their goal. Whether you've got one dollar or one hundred, consider donating to TransParent today


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by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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