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The Gits' Mia Zapata Resurrected In Film
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The Gits' Mia Zapata Resurrected In Film


Fifteen years ago, The Gits were a Seattle band on the verge of signing with a major label. They were going to be big. And then lead singer Mia Zapata was raped and murdered. Now, a new documentary about the band is getting attention. Critic Sarah Bardeen reports on the film and its very unexpected ending.

SARAH BARDEEN: In a documentary, the filmmaker's job is to make you fall in love with the subject. Kerri O'Kane's new film "The Gits" does its job and then some. Working with sparse footage from the 1980s and '90s, O'Kane still manages to makes us fall head over heels for the ragtag bunch of Antioch College-educated misfits better known as The Gits.

(Soundbite of song "Daily Bread")

THE GITS: (Singing) I have four walls and they're to watch me. The blankness jumps right off the page. My fingers try to tear the paper. A bitter moment is almost dead.

BARDEEN: Primarily we fall in love with Mia Zapata, a singer who sounds like a punk-rock Janis Joplin, both in her soulful voice and her ardent personality, which makes the brashness, kindness, and vulnerability in equal parts. Zapata never became a bona fide star, but she had star quality, the ability to command attention without ever seeming to see it.

(Soundbite of song "Whirlwind")

THE GITS: (Singing) When I woke up today, I was dizzy in my brain. It's not that I like to feel this way. The wagon's shaking, I feel it start to tilt.

Mr. RICHARD ZAPATA: What I know of my daughter, she was very quiet, very reserved, ultra-ultra shy, the last person in the world who would call attention to herself, and yet put a microphone in her hand, march her up on a stage and she was just magnetic.

BARDEEN: Above all, we fall for the music. Compared to many of their contemporaries, the Gits were instrumentally brilliant, playing fast, tight, classic punk rock, which took a radical left turn when Zapata added her voice to the mix.

(Soundbite of song "Guilt within Your Head")

THE GITS: (Singing) Well, I see you shake. I see the paint underneath your fingernails, Scratching the walls, Scratching in the moment that brought you here.

BARDEEN: In 1993, the group was on the verge of signing with Atlantic Records. They'd just come off a successful European tour and many were touting the group as Seattle's next big thing. One night, in July of 1993, while walking home from a Seattle bar, Zapata was raped and murdered. She was 27 years old.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Unidentified Reporter: Zapata's body was found early Wednesday morning on a remote street in a central district. Zapata had been strangled. Police are investigating, but so far, they have no suspects or motives.

(Soundbite of song "Precious Blood")

BARDEEN: The documentary would have ended on this note, but as O'Kane was finishing the film in 2003, events took a dramatic turn. Police found a convicted felon whose DNA matched the murderer's DNA that was found on Zapata's body. In the courtroom scenes, there is little rejoicing over the conviction. Zapata's family and friends weren't seeking vengeance. In the end, they simply wanted justice.

(Soundbite of song "Precious Blood")

THE GITS: (Singing) There are these things that I want the most, But they usually one step furthest from my reach. Oh, but they always stand close enough To take me to the next fuckin' drink.

CHADWICK: That piece from Sarah Bardeen. She is a music critic living in San Francisco.

BARDEEN: For the band members, their time with Zapata was the most heady and creative time of their lives. Their friends and colleagues, 7 Year Bitch, even named an album after the singer. They called it "Viva Zapata." And 15 years after her death, thanks in no small part to this documentary, it seems that the legacy of Mia Zapata and the Gits will indeed live on.

(Soundbite of song "Precious Blood")

THE GITS: (Singing) Faster than my precious blood will let me roll, Is it real, or tell me, is it wrong For me to keep these dreams the strongest in my mind? 'Cause when it cuts it just gets deeper, baby.

Like when I go to touch you, You're the furthest from me, yeah, yeah. Don't know how long it's gonna take, But I'm gonna get me, get me, get, a little more one day...

CHADWICK: And there is more to come on Day to Day.

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