As a young woman living in Seattle in the late '90s, it was impossible not to know the name Mia Zapata. At age 27, while walking home from a bar one summer night in 1993, she was raped and strangled, her body dumped on a secluded street and found just an hour after her friend last saw her alive. The story was a cautionary tale to any woman walking home at night, and the tragedy sparked the creation of Home Alive, a self-defense cooperative.
But there was a lot more to Zapata. For starters, she fronted the punk-grunge band the Gits, who had just returned from a successful European tour. Her nickname was Chicken, thanks to a funny way she'd stand with her knees together. She wrote amazing lyrics. She had tons of friends. She was shy, until she got on stage. Like so many others in Seattle, it's clear that director Kerri O'Kane was taken with Zapata, the story of the Gits, and how the band's history intersected with Zapata's untimely death.
But the film isn't all about Zapata's death, though her absence in The Gits, as others remember how the band formed and how they were on the verge of making it big—is painfully obvious. The Gits' story also has a music history backdrop, as they shared a practice space with 7 Year Bitch, and were playing in Seattle's clubs during the height of grunge (plenty of the clubs featured in the massive amounts of archival footage don't even exist anymore). Joan Jett, surviving members of 7 Year Bitch, Kathleen Hanna, and others from Seattle's music scene all appear in the film.
The documentary has been in the works for years—and was understandably delayed by a major development in 2003: While O'Kane was busy working on the film, and interviewing Zapata's friends and bandmates about their hope to eventually bring her killer to justice, cold-case detectives in Seattle submitted a teeny bit of saliva found on Zapata's body to a national DNA database. They got a match, and arrested a Florida man—who was in Seattle at the time of her death—named Jesus Mezquia. O'Kane's camera was there as Mezquia was convicted and sentenced to 37 years in prison—adding closure to Zapata's case, and bringing a bittersweet ending to O'Kane's intimate, lovingly pieced together look at a slice of music history that, until now, has been hidden in Seattle.