by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Like many of you, when I heard that the Stonewall Riots, considered by many to be the start of the modern LGBTQ equality movement, was going to have its day on the big screen - as a legit Hollywood movie instead of a low-budget film school project - I was pleased. I mean, look at what the award-winning film Milk did for LGBTQ visibility in terms of the mainstream when it sold out theaters across the country. Only, unlike Milk, which took cues and advice from longtime Harvey Milk confidant and supporter Cleve Jones, the trailer for Stonewall, directed by Roland Emmerich, in theaters September 25, has outraged many in the LGBTQ community who say that the film is not at all accurate - particularly because its creators leave out the Transgender and gender nonconforming people of color who started the riots at the Stonewall Inn in 1969.
That's a pretty damn big thing for Hollywood to leave out. How in the world could anyone make a movie about the LGBTQ community - Stonewall in particular - and leave out the people of color and Transgender folks who made it all possible? Well, somehow they have and by doing so, Stonewall may get stonewalled before it even hits theaters this fall.
Let's be clear: Young, poor, Transgender women of color were the leaders of Stonewall, not white men. It is true, there were Gay white men at the Stonewall Inn that night in June 1969, but they were not at the forefront of the incidents that helped shape out movement like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were. There isn't anybody alive who would contest that fact.
Sarah Prager, founder and director at Quist, an LGBTQ history app and website, has been critical of the film's whitewashing. In a Huffington Post article Prager writes, 'Historical fiction doesn't have to copy every detail from reality, but what Ronald Emmerich has done goes beyond creative license. It robs the LGBTQ community of our history. It is denying huge parts of our community seeing themselves represented on screen as they should. Just as TV shows have turned us into stereotypes and sidekicks, the projected image harms us all.'
Rev. Irene Monroe, according to Gay Star News, was at the Stonewall riots and claims, '...it didn't look anything like this film.'
'The Stonewall Riot of 27 to 29 June 1969 in Greenwich Village started on the backs of working class African American and Latino LGBTIs who patronized that bar,' said Monroe. 'Those brown and black LGBTI people are not only absent from the photos of that night, but have been bleached from its written history - and now, if the trailer is anything to go by, from the new Stonewall film.'
'Many LGBTI African-Americans and Latinos argue one of the reasons for the gulf between whites and themselves is about how the dominant queer community rewrote and continues to control the narrative of Stonewall,' continued Monroe.
So what is all the outrage about? Well, in the trailer, the film's creators claim the movie to be a 'true story,' and then tells the audience that a young, white, Gay man was the first to throw a brick and start the Stonewall Riots when we know that, in reality, hundreds of eye witness accounts and documented evidence have said the riots were started by black drag queens and Transgender women.
Basically, some white boy from the Midwest named Danny, is portrayed in the film as the catalyst for it all. It's absurd to say the least.
Quick history lesson: The two people most credited with sparking the riots were Marsha P. Johnson, a black Transwoman who performed as a drag queen, and Silvia Rivera, Puerto Rican Transgender woman. Johnson was the one who officially started the riots according to witnesses in David Carter's historical account: Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. She went to the Stonewall Inn that night for her 25th birthday and was a focus of much of the celebrations that evening. Like many Transgender women at the time, she performed as a drag queen. Rivera was a 17-year-old Puerto Rican drag queen and Trans activist who, on the night of the riot, was persuaded by a friend to go to the Stonewall Inn that evening. According to eyewitness accounts, she was in the crowd that gathered outside of the bar. She is believed to have yelled: 'It's the revolution!'
She is cited with being one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle. Other players included Allyson Allante, who was just 14 when she was arrested, as well as Diane Kearney, Zazu Nova, Miss Peaches and more. None of them were white, Gay, or named Danny; as the film Stonewall alleges.
The trailer has outraged some in the community so much that the GSA Network is asking for people to boycott the film: https://unite.gsanetwork.org/petitions/boycott-2015-stonewall-movie.
GSA Network officials have a message for 'all considering watching the newest whitewashed version of queer history.'
'It is time that black and brown Transwomyn and drag queens are recognized for their efforts in the riots throughout the nation,' say officials. 'Do not throw money at the capitalistic industry that fails to recognize true s/heroes. Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall.'
There's a lesson to be learned here and that is that the LGBTQ community is not cool with our history being rewritten in order to meet the standards of the mainstream. In fact, we detest it. This is a good thing. I feel that what the makers of Stonewall the movie have done is just reckless and aside from the fact that there is real damage done whenever whitewashing happens, it is almost comical that they thought nobody would notice. While it may be true that Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera aren't as well-known as let's say RuPaul or even Caitlyn Jenner, the truth is enough of us know of Johnson and Rivera and what they did. As sort of a silver lining, due to all the media and backlash over the mishandling of this film, many others will now know about these two Transgender pioneers, too.
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