Free CeCe! promises to be another excoriating exposé of the injustices of the American legal and prison systems, tackling an uninterrogated part of the story tracked in Ava DuVernay’s 13th by specifically considering the mistreatment of black trans women.

Though suitably dressed in the aesthetics of an inspiring tale of protest and solidarity (the opening credits are made up of various “Free CeCe” logos graffitied across urban locations), Free CeCe! is ultimately an unfocused amalgamation of the personal and the political.

Director Jacqueline Gares takes on too many issues, which, though undeniably connected, she’s unable to map convincingly into a clear narrative or argument. The topics are simply placed inelegantly after one another, and there’s little attempt to tease out the connections.

The presentation of the fight itself and its aftermath lacks clarity – it’s not always clear who’s speaking – and is far from unbiased. However, static diagrammatic animation is smartly and sensitively employed instead of the more obvious technique of reconstruction.

The decision to tell aspects of CeCe’s personal story – childhood memories, a post-incarceration reunion with her long-estranged mother – out of sequence lends further incoherence, and melds imperfectly with one of the most overtly political parts of the story, a celebratory look at trans rights campaigners across the US.

The only flicker of structural unity is the presence of Laverne Cox, whose star power one suspects is being used to bolster Free CeCe! and its themes. Unfortunately Cox mostly proves a bland though sympathetic presence, only occasionally voicing complex questions. More like this could have garnered greater insight and argumentative thrust.

Free CeCe! attempts an undeniably necessary deconstruction of inequality and systemic injustice and provides a deserved platform for many underserved voices. Many of the personal testimonies emotively strike home, but the film as a whole struggles for articulacy.



CAST: Laverne Cox, Venus Xtravaganza, Tona Brown, CeCe McDonald

DIRECTOR: Jacqueline Gares

SYNOPSIS: This film confronts the culture of violence surrounding trans women of color. It is told through the voices of Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald.