Stonewall: Whitewashing the truth?

For those of you who do not know about Stonewall, let me give you the cliff notes version of what happened. Although I do encourage you to read up on the full events.

Stonewall – the facts

In 1969, riots took place at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, New York City, by members of the LGBT community who were reacting to a police raid that took place at the Inn during the early hours of June 28. Activists such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major where all present at the beginning of the riots and are seen as the first to initiate them through the throwing of the first brick that led to the riots becoming one of the most important events for LGBT rights in the United States.

Sticking to the facts?

But I’m sure that at this point you are asking where the problem is?

Well if you have a look at the trailer at the end of this article you’ll see that the central protagonist, and the one that throws the first brick, is a white, cisgendered, fictional male (cisgendered meaning identifying as the gender you are born as, i.e. not transgender). Whereas this is not the case, Marsha P Johnson, an African American drag performer, was credited with being the first to fight back after police raided the Inn and alongside her included activists who were Latino, African American, transgendered, gender-nonconforming, and drag performers, and not the archetypal male protagonist that the films trailer portrays.

Understandably, members of the LGBT community disagreed with how the events of Stonewall have been portrayed and have created a petition that since writing this article has amassed over 20,000 signatures. The petition reads ‘[do] not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall’ and it suggests that ‘Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing.’

It states that a more accurate representation of the events surrounding Stonewall would ‘[centre] the stories of queer and gender-nonconforming people of [colour] like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson. Not relegate them to background characters in the service of a white cis-male fictional protagonist.’

Defending Their Work

Commenting on the trailer and people’s reactions, the films co-writer, Jon Robin Baitz, implied that the film’s marketing is not an accurate representation of the film as a whole. He stated: ‘I stand before people who are angered by a film they have yet to see, and ask that their open hearts allow that the film be judged on its own merits, and not by the demands of a marketing department, because marketing is based entirely in fear, whereas art is based in rage and hope and fire.’

Whereas, the films creator Roland Emmerich, who is openly gay, comforted critics by stating that ‘I understand that following the release of our trailer there have been initial concerns about how [the character of Danny’s] involvement is portrayed, but when this film — which is truly a [labour] of love for me — finally comes to [theatres], audiences will see that it deeply [honors] the real-life activists who were there.’

But what do you think? Are people reacting too quickly since the full film has not yet been released and that they need to wait before making a judgement? Or are they perfectly justified in their views and that the whitewashing of the film is not giving a true portrayal to those who risked their lives during the riots?