Gay Rights Movement Is Whitewashed in ‘Stonewall,’ But Another Film Focuses on Activists of Color

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Sure, Hollywood is an old white boys club, but every once in a while they throw us a bone. Still, no matter how sincere their efforts, the white hetero males lounging in the executive offices at major studios just can’t help bungling the whole diversity endeavor time and time again. Their latest cagada? Stonewall – a well-intentioned monument to 60s gay rights activism helmed by the director behind Independence Day and Godzilla. Sounds kind of random, but aside from his penchant for disaster, the German-born director Roland Emmerich is in fact gay. So you can go ahead and give the studio execs another point for authenticity.

Unfortunately, everything starts falling apart when it comes to questions of race and gender. Anyone surprised? This is because the real heroes and heroines behind New York’s 1969 Stonewall riots were anything but “respectable,” white, middle-class gays. In fact, the iconic Stonewall Inn in the West Village was a dive favored by historically marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, including drag queens, transgender folks, butch lesbians, and male prostitutes. Most of them also happened to be black and brown. So you can see why Hollywood would have a tough time with this.

Granted, no one has actually seen Stonewall yet, but the trailer has been more than enough to get LGBTQ activists and allies up in arms about yet another whitewashing of history. Indeed, in just over two minutes, we start getting flashbacks to other white, heterosexual Hollywood proxies for non-white liberation (see: Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai). This is because Stonewall’s fictional hero is played by British hunk Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), as an all-American Midwestern boy who moves to New York’s gritty downtown and gets down with the struggle.

Naturally, the studio execs behind Stonewall had no interest in actually profiling the historical figures who spearheaded that struggle. To boot, they had the gall to put the famous first brick thrown at the riots in the hands of our all-American Midwestern hero. In reality, that brick has been attributed to a Puerto Rican transgender woman and gay liberation figurehead named Sylvia Rivera, along with her African-American sister-in-the-struggle Marsha P. Johnson. But Hollywood doesn’t want to make this a “minority movie” now does it?

Thus far, the backlash has taken many forms. As expected, we’ve seen the usual blogger rage, but there have also been more creative responses to Hollywood’s hopelessly clueless worldview. One Facebooker took to Photoshop and cut-and-pasted our handsome white hero into a series of other historical liberation movements where he is equally out of place. The message is clear: would you make a movie about the Civil Rights Movement without Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or the United Farm Workers without César Chávez?

An even more positive reaction has been a push to fundraise for the short film entitled Happy Birthday Marsha, which was written and directed by LGBTQ activists Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel. The film shows a typical day in the life of Marsha and Sylvia that eventually led to their participation in the explosion of righteous anger that was the Stonewall riots. Needless to say, this one looks like it’s going to get it right.

Cast of ‘Happy Birthday, Marsha’
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In the end, we’ll have to wait to see the film in its entirety before slamming it outright. One thing is for sure: Hollywood just doesn’t get it.