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3 Ways To Tell The Story Of Transgender Women

Writer and filmmaker dream hampton spoke with BuzzFeed on how to tell more stories about trans women than the crimes that happen to them.

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Writer, filmmaker, and activist dream hampton is set to debut her new documentary Treasure: From Tragedy To Trans Justice, Mapping A Detroit Story at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival.


The documentary tells the story of Shelly Hilliard, a 19-year-old black Transgender woman who was murdered in Detroit. BuzzFeed talked to dream hampton about how to tell a powerful story like this and translate it to film.

1. If you are not a transgender woman, recognize your privilege and proceed with respect.

dream hampton

"I wasn’t sure that there was footage of her. So right away that became problematic," hampton told BuzzFeed. "There’s already criticism from the trans community, that cis folks aren’t interested in trans people unless they’re corpses. So the idea of doing a film where she was a ghost was inherently problematic. It took us a long time to get the little bit of footage that there is in the film. From her laptop, with her family’s permission. But I didn’t go through all of her files, I wanted to respect her privacy, posthumously. A friend went through her files."

2. Focus on community, trans stories are human stories.

dream hampton

"Instead of focusing on the murder, I remembered she came from this vibrant community," hampton told BuzzFeed. "Yes, she did sex work, she smoked blunts, but the police engaged her because they smelled weed. They coerced her into getting her dealer into showing up with harder drugs, and then they arrested him and told him who snitched on him. They gave up Shelly almost 24 hours within making her an informant, which led to her death.

But she also came from a community that affirmed her identity. I wanted to include these people in the film so it didn’t focus on just the crime. In this film I think there’s a wide range of trans visibility. You're also dealing with folks who have suffered different degrees of trauma. While I was with her mother, she got a call about more body parts [of Shelly's that had been] found. One girl I interviewed was brutally attacked while I was filming. That's what it is to be in Detroit."

3. Know that you're telling a story, not leading a revolution.

"This is just one small offering of someone in solidarity," hampton told BuzzFeed. "The original name of the documentary was Transparent, but I had to change the name [because of the Amazon show exist now]. When I started this, Laverne Cox wasn’t on the cover of Time. Janet Mock wasn’t on NBC. I think Laverne and Janet are our Dorothy Dandridge and Juanita Moore."

Treasure premieres Saturday, June 12 at the Los Angeles Film Festival.