MAJOR! is a documentary film exploring the life and campaigns of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a formerly incarcerated Black transgender elder and activist who has been fighting for the rights of trans women of color for over 40 years.”

The above description and few additional details from Miss Major’s Wikipedia Bio were all I knew about Major Griffin-Gracy a few weeks ago when I accepted an invitation to attend film’s premiere at the 2015 Transgender Film Festival in San Francisco.

It’s not that I didn’t know the statistics.

I did.

From the advocacy of Janet Mock, I learned about the increased risk of violence faced by transwomen of color and through the incarceration of CeCe McDonald, I learned about their disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system. I’ve seen the graphs and charts, but Major! explores these issues through story; tracing the harrowing yet exuberant life of an irreverent, irrepressible and utterly disarming woman who has built family and community for transgender women in and out of prison.


TGI Justice

Miss Major’s TGI Justice Project works to create “a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom… working in collaboration with others to forge a culture of resistance and resilience to strengthen us for the fight against imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and societal pressures.”

The staff and volunteers at TGI Justice visit prisoners, write letters, do research and advocate for their sisters behind bars. It is a noble work. It matters.

What I experienced watching this film is akin to the religious conviction of a lapsed evangelical during a barn-burning sermon. I was deeply affected and ultimately shamed by how little I have done for others. in my life. As I witnessed Major’s struggles and losses, I became acutely aware that for too long, I have excused my inaction by wrapping myself up in grief.

I am too sad, too anxious, too broken to do the work that must be done is an easy out, but for how long? At what point do the injustices of this world demand that I snap out of it?

One of the most powerful moments of the night was Miss Major’s defiant battle cry; I am still fucking here. At the film’s close, familiar and unfamiliar transgender women appeared on-screen, echoing this refrain. It was evidence of the resilience of the human spirit in a society and its systems which seek to destroy. And yet, there are so many who are not still here.

The empty seat beside me was glaring and I wept throughout the 8-minute standing ovation. Leaving the theater, I felt the full weight of having been a useless ally – mostly in theory and woefully out of practice. My daughter is gone, but I am still fucking here and I should damn well be putting that grief to work in her name.

For such inspiration and a renewed fire in your belly, I highly recommend checking out MAJOR!, when and where you can find it.

MANY THANKS to AJ Russo, who squired away tickets for J., Mouse and I to attend the event.

Visit the MAJOR! doc’s website:

Find out more about the work TGI Justice does here:





Within a week, I read two narrative non-fiction books that were deeply connected in theme and evoked a powerful emotional response. Both Man Alive and The Other Wes Moore examine the journey to manhood; what it means and how it is achieved.
For the two Wes Moores, whose stories are traced in The Other Wes Moore, this passage was fraught with peril, poverty and the absence of fathers. Growing up in West Baltimore and The Bronx, the boys had similar struggles and yet their lives diverged greatly, one going on to become a Rhodes scholar, Army officer and accomplished writer/speaker, while the other is serving a life sentence for a heist in which an off-duty police officer was killed.

Do you think that we’re products of our environments? I think so, or maybe products of our expectations. Others’ expectations of us or our expectations … I realize how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.

A series of letters and visits between the two are the basis of Moore’s analysis as he examines what manhood meant to each of the boys and how they faced the approaching need for responsibility – caring for family, trying to better themselves and their lives, sometimes achieving, sometimes failing.

Thomas Page McBee’s
path to manhood, chronicled in Man Alive is likewise fraught with obstacles. As a female-bodied man bearing the scars of family trauma and reeling in the fresh vulnerability of surviving a mugging, McBee’s experience is unique and his insight, broadly relevant.

It seemed possible to me, in the dry heat of that courtroom, that heaven was a metaphor for the grace of perspective you get when you die.

Through intertwined narratives of past and present, McBee explores both the perception of and his internalized messages about what it means to be a man. In a story that could be full of heroes and villains, we find instead nuance and complexity. McBee comes to terms with the humanity of his abusive father and mugger, freeing him to embrace manhood on his own terms.

I highly recommend both books and hope you will read more about Thomas Page McBee and Wes Moore.


Everly_posterI know. it’s early. I probably should have written SEASON, instead of YEAR, but I’m still riding out the tail end of the adrenaline rush I got from Joe Lynch’s wham-bam action flick staring the ever-awesome Salma Hayek. It’s possible I’m harboring an adrenal-bias.

And perhaps you’ll argue that I’m stretching the definition of Chick Flick here. Wikipedia defines the term Chick Flick as pertaining to “films that are heavy with emotion or contain themes that are relationship-based” and Everly is all of those things, while also being funny, gory and one hell of a thrill ride.

Salma Hayek’s Everly has got mother problems, daughter problems and ohmygod you wouldn’t believe the backstabbing bitches she works with. To top it all off she’s got a slave-driving boss who is so demanding that Everly hasn’t had a day off in years. What good are to-die-for shoes if you never get outside in them?

With notable support from Akie Kotabe, Laura Cepeda and Hiroyuki Watanabe, Salma Hayak carries the film effortlessly and it is only when the angelic Aisha Ayamah (as Everly’s daughter Maisey) is on screen, that you can tear your eyes off of her.

The script, co-written with Yale Hannon, is smart, funny and lean in all the right places. Unsurprisingly for fans of Joe Lynch’s previous films as well as The Movie Crypt and Holliston, there’s a horror sensibility at work here, and yet there is also restraint. Near the end, a exquisite scene with Hayek and Aisha Ayamah busts out of any genre mold you try to stuff Everly into. This breathless moment is indicative of that balance. Yes, Lynch grew up in the church of Tarantino but here he has succeeded in carving out his own space and it’s kind of fantastic.

Premiering at Fantastic Fest last September, Everly was released on iTunes and VOD January 23rd in advance of its February 27th theatrical release. In general, the trend of flip-flopping release dates has confused me, until now.

Who’s going to head to the theater to see Everly when they can watch it at home? This girl, and her shoot-em-up-lovin’ sister and every woman we know who’s been done wrong by a bad bad man and will take great pleasure in the vicarious revenge. See, I told you it was a chick flick.

(Jules Vilmur is a former film writer for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Occasionally she comes across movies that make her wish she still had that column. This is one of those.)