Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story

Posted on June 10, 2015

Treasure (2015, 63 min.), a documentary directed by dream hampton, premieres at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 13 and June 16, screens in Upstate NY on June 15, and then debuts in Detroit, June 18 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, shown in partnership with the Ruth Ellis Center.

Invincible reflects on the film

Immediately after the news came out about the brutal murder of Shelly Hilliard, most people assumed her death was related to involvement in survival economies, or a hate crime. Four years ago, I was at the Ruth Ellis Center for Shelly’s candlelight vigil and saw attendees struggled through some speaker’s moralistic stances on sex work. I remember a few of young trans women righteously spoke up against the paternalism they heard, and called out the exclusion of trans people from the LGB community in Detroit: the “T” is always an afterthought, one young woman noted.

Invisible, until tragedy hits.

As the details were revealed of what led to the killing of Shelly (also known as Treasure to friends and family), people quickly realized this was something much more layered and heinous than an individual acting on ignorance and transphobia. The facts revealed this to be not only a dehumanization of Shelly's life because of her Blackness and Transness, but also uncovered the central role of the suburban Madison Heights police in her death. Since then her story has remained largely untold, until this powerful film.

Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story, premieres this month with screenings in Los Angeles, Upstate New York, and Detroit. The piece is heavy and heartbreaking, never avoiding the gravity of the tragedy that led to the end of Treasure's life. But rather than focus solely on the gruesome actions of Shelly's murderers, it exposes the institutional methods by which her precious life was stolen through police coercion and oppressive economic conditions.

Yet Treasure doesn't stop at Tragedy. It also illuminates the Trans Justice movement in Detroit and beyond, uplifting the wisdom of many including Emani Love, Racquelle Trammell, Karimu Oliver, Lance Hicks, and Ignacio Rivera. I was interviewed for the film as well, and honored to be featured amongst these fierce Trans warriors. This film is so important because it highlights Shelly's story in an intimate portrait that is nuanced and intentional in its approach.

Treasure features a sparse and powerful soundscape contributed by Jeedo (Dirt Tech Reck / Complex Movements) and Detroit based classical harpist Ahya Simone (recently featured in this list of Black Trans people to follow). 

Upcoming Screenings

Los Angeles Film Festival: June 13 and June 16 (tickets)

Jacob Burns Film Center, Pleasantville, NY: June 15 (tickets)

Detroit Institute of Arts: June 18 (tickets)

Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story

Directed by:
Dream Hampton
Producers: T. Miller, D. Phillips
Cinematographer: Adam Saewitz
Editor: Darryl Phillips
Music: Ahya Simone
Cast: Emani Love, Lyniece Nelson