» Catalyst Series
Intermedia Arts presents
A Film by Jac Gares
Executive Produced by Laverne Cox

On her way to the store with a group of friends, Chrishaun Reed “CeCe” McDonald was brutally attacked. While defending her life, a man was killed. After a coercive interrogation, CeCe was incarcerated in a men’s prison in Minnesota. An international campaign to free CeCe garnered significant support from media and activists, including actress Laverne Cox. Cox signed on as executive producer of FREE CECE!, committed to exploring the role race, class, and gender played in CeCe’s case. In the end, CeCe emerged not only as a survivor, but also as a leader.

Documentarian Jac Gares pushed past the everyday narratives of victimhood surrounding the lives of transgender people, to spotlight the way CeCe and other trans people are leading a growing movement fighting for the rights of transgender people everywhere. CeCe's powerful story highlights the groundswell of voices questioning the prison industrial complex and calling for its disassembly.

FREE CECE! is directed and produced by Jac Gares and executive produced by Laverne Cox. Slobodan Randjelovic also served as producer. Original music is by Jordana LeSesne with editing byb.

This film is NOT in theaters or available for streaming.

This film is presented in partnership with the University of Minnesota's Office for Multicultural Student Engagement and the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection In Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual And Transgender Studies. The post-screening dance party is presented by RARE Productions.


Pre-Screening Mixer
October 29 | Saturday | 7:30PM

Join us before the screening on the Purple Carpet! Mixing, mingling, snacks and music set the tone for our evening. 

Post-Screening Discussion + Dance Party
October 29 | Saturday | Immediately Following the Film
Stick around after the film for a discussion with Jac Gares, CeCe McDonald, moderated by Andrea Jenkins. Then celebrate with a DJ Dance Party by RARE Productions.

FREE CECE! (2016) Trailer

LISTEN: Andrea Jenkins' Interview with Director Jac Gares


I began researching this story with Laverne Cox when I was the series producer of the public television show, “In The Life.” When “In The Life” ended in December 2012, this project stayed with me. I became committed to producing and directing a feature-length film that confronts transgender bias crime with both rigor and humanity. Because of my prior work on “In The Life,” I was granted access to film Chrishaun (CeCe) McDonald while she was incarcerated in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I brought Laverne Cox to interview her, believing it would produce a powerful result (which it did). When CeCe was released from prison in January 2014, Laverne and I went back to greet her.

McDonald’s case elicited an international groundswell of support among social justice activists and trans youth. Through the voices of members of the trans community, as well as experts and advocates, the film explores the roles of race, class and gender played in her case.

CeCe’s story is important because it is often repeated and rarely reported. The frequency and severity of violence directed toward trans women of color must end. I wanted to produce a useful film that sensitizes audiences and amplifies the voices and lived experiences of trans women of color. FREE CECE! is a call to action for a cultural shift. We need for cultural competency training, public policy, and legislation to recognize the humanity, dignity and authentic lives of trans people.

FREE CECE! In the News:

FREE CECE! Explores Prison Abolition and Anti-Trans Anti-Black Violence

Directed by Women
Jacqueline Gares: “Why isn’t anyone telling this story…Why aren’t you?!”

The Rainbow Experience
#FreeCeCe! TRANScending the [un]Justice System

Documentary 'FREE CECE!' Shows Fight for Justice within LGBTQ Community

Take Part
Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald Discuss the Epidemic of Violence Against Trans Women

LA Times
Why Laverne Cox is Lending Her Voice to the 'Free CeCe' Documentary

The Advocate
How Laverne Cox and I Helped Free CeCe McDonald


CeCe McDonald is young and passionate transgender activist. In 2011, CeCe McDonald was studying fashion design at Minneapolis Community and Technical College while walking to a grocery store, she and her friends were attacked by a group of white people shouting racist and transphobic slurs. After fatally stabbing one of her attackers, she was unjustly imprisoned for 19 months. Throughout her time in prison, CeCe openly discussed issues around mass incarceration and its intersections with transphobia, homophobia and class.

Now, CeCe McDonald brings her creative and energetic personality to stages all over the country. She uses storytelling to articulate the personal and political implications of her time in prison and ways to heal. She fosters conversations and discussions around the intersections of trans identity including but not limited to prison abolition, homelessness, and love. CeCe has given talks from college campuses to Wall Street and is highly sought after for her raw and honest dialogue. 


Laverne Cox, Executive Producer, plays Sophia Burset, an incarcerated African American, transgender woman, in the Netflix original series “Orange is The New Black”.Laverne is a renowned speaker whose insights have been featured on CNN, MSNBC, HLN, VH1, Fox News Latino and more. Laverne is the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show. Her work as an actress and advocate recently landed her on the cover of Time Magazine as well as a Critic’s Choice nomination for “Best Supporting Actress.” In 2013 Laverne won Best Supporting Actress at the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival for her work in the critically acclaimed film “Musical Chairs” directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan). Laverne’s other acting credits include independent films “Carla” and “The Exhibitionists.”Laverne produced and starred in VH1’s “TRANSForm Me” which was nominated for aGLAAD Media Award. She is the recipient of awards from the Anti-Violence Project andOpportunity Agenda. Most recently, Laverne accepted the The Stephen F. Kolzak Awardat the 2014 GLAAD Media Awards in LA.

Jacqueline (Jac) Gares, Director/Producer, is a New York-based filmmaker FREE CeCe! is her directorial debut documentary feature film. For five years, Jac served as producer and supervising producer of IN THE LIFE on public television, her work garnered awards from NLGJA, GLAAD, and Webbys. She produced specials and documentaries for the History Channel, Food Network, USA Networks and PBS's premiere non-fiction film showcase, P.O.V./The American Documentary. The first documentary she produced, about genetic testing and Alzheimer’s Disease, UNRAVELED, won a Freddie Award in 2008; her short film REMNANT won a TELLY Award in 1999. Gares has a BA in English Literature from Rutgers University and an MA in Media Studies from The New School. Jacqueline has been named Go Magazine's 100 Women We Love, was featured in Cahiers du Cinema, and is a proud 2014 Jerome Foundation Emerging Film/Video Artist Grantee. 

Jordana LeSesne, Composer, is a musician, DJ, and producer also known as 1.8.7. She became one of the United States' first major Drum 'n' Bass producers, releasing a few popular albums for the New York-based Jungle Sky label in the late 1990s as well as a plethora of singles and remixes. The Pittsburgh, PA native rose to popular attention in the mid 90s as one of the first respected producers of the genre based in the USA. Jordana grew up with an older brother who spun disco, hip-hop, and electro and older sister who was a vocalist. Talent runs in the family as she was related to the late Tupac Shakur. First dabbling in music at an early age, Jordana went on to play several instruments in the high school orchestra as well as in local punk and metal bands. Her introduction to electronic dance music came in 1988 when she began listening to BBC broadcasts featuring reports on the rise acid house music. It wasn't until the early '90s that dance music crept into Pittsburgh, and Jordana began frequenting many of the city's first rave-like parties. It wasn't long before she began making dance music of herown distributing demo tapes in the early 90s rave scene.

Erik Satre, Editor, is an Editor and Post Production Supervisor/Producer with over 18 years of experience in Film and Television, Erik has contributed to major networks such as PBS, BBC America, Bravo, and MTV.  In 2012 Erik was awarded a GLAAD Media award for Outstanding Digital Journalism for his work on "Injustice At Every Turn", a look at the increased discrimination faced by Transgendered Americans.  In his extensive work with Public Television series "IN THE LIFE" he has proven to be an asset in documenting the underlying truths in the struggle for Human Rights. He has a strong sense of story and a natural sensitivity to the human spirit.  Erik's work has generated conversations, and influenced change.

Tony MoralesCinematographer, is a NYC based DP with almost 20 years experience in Film and Video. Graduating  Cornell University with a Bachelor's of Arts from the Film Department, Tony Morales has travelled the world and visited 5 continents shooting various documentary and narrative projects. Credits include 35mm and 16mm feature films, Reality television shows, and documentaries.

Joe PollockCinematographer, owner of Joe Pollock Films, is a Minneapolis based cinematographer and editor who specializes in documentary-style short films including weddings, company promos, calls to action, music videos and other storytelling platforms. Since starting JPF in 2011, Mr. Pollock has worked with a variety of couples, artists and organizations including HealthPartners, the YMCA and the University of Minnesota. While most of his work takes place in the twin cities, his work has brought him to New Orleans, Sonoma, Paris, London, Brussels and Amsterdam. Portfolio and contact information can be found at www.joepollockfilms.com.


This activity is made possible by the Still Ain't Satisfied Foundation and by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
The producers wish to thank the generous support from the Ford Foundation, H van Ameringen Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Ted Snowdon Foundation.
A Very Special Thanks for the Generosity of:
Gina Leonetti Boonshoft, Jamie A. Jennings, Leslie Lagerstrom, Katrina E. Schaffer, and Rebecca H. Weaver.
And thanks to all our IFP Fiscal Sponsorship and Indiegogo Supporters, without your support this film would not have been possible.


A Part of Intermedia Arts' Catalyst Series