Apparently, reviews of the recent Stonewall movie are rolling in and they’re not all that favorable.
You can almost feel the shade coming through the screen reading excerpts of these not so favorable reviews. If you haven’t already heard about this, the recent film directed by Rolan Emmerich and written by Jon Robin Baitz has come under quite a bit of criticism by the trans community because of it’s erasure of the role that trans people and people of color played that evening. When I recently discussed Stonewall with my family, they had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. Mind you, this was something I studied in High School and wrote research papers about. So it’s not like the information isn’t out there, but the information is certainly not mainstream and quite a bit of it is white washed.
I did a series of videos for Everyday Feminism about Stonewall and had to revisit the subject about 10 years after I first did research about the riots. Honestly, some of the information about that time period surprised me and some of it shocked me. I didn’t realize just how whitewashed the narrative had become. I remember thinking as a child that it was mostly cis gay white men who were there that night. I think that has something to do with being raised in a society that pushes cis gay white men to the forefront of all LGBT conversations. You get the impression that this is the only people who are part of the community. So in many ways as a queer child of color, you feel like an outsider. A minority within a minority within a minority. However the real history of The Stonewall Riots offers a narrative to queer kids of color that I feel is needed.
Here’s part 1 of my video series giving you the straight up history on The Stonewall Riots.
The research I did for this video was particularly draining. I wanted so badly to be right and to not be too biased in my presentation of the facts. The unfortunate reality is that this was a chaotic night. There are so many stories and so many perspectives. Reading anecdotes about that night, all I kept asking myself is, if there was an uprising in a bar today, would I know all of the facts about what happened that night? Or would I only have my own perspective that would ultimately be affected by the people that directly surrounded me? In other words, I could see how some people could view the events of that evening in a way that didn’t coincide with each other. It’s hard to see everything happening in a crowded area. However, what we do know is that several people describe the police’s first line of resistance being trans people of color. We also know that Stonewall had the reputation for taking everyone who was rejected and denied service in the other (white) gay bars that, at the time, had recently gained legal status. We also know that Gay Liberation used Black Liberation as a guideline for it’s activism. “Gay Power” was a phrase directly inspired by the phrase “black power”. It’s almost the equivalent of #alllivesmatter in 2015. What we also know is that trans women like Sylvia Rivera devoted a lot of their time and activism to the Gay Liberation movement and raised thousands of dollars for their organizations only to ultimately be rejected from the community. We know that Gay organizations have actively worked to reject the inclusion of trans people in their causes. Now in the time of Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, we see the Gay community clamoring to be inclusive, and I support that, but the blatant erasure of people of color in stories where they played a large part in reminds me and so many trans people that we aren’t nearly where we need to be.
Here’s part 2 of my video about Stonewall where I criticize both sides of the debate about the trailer of the Stonewall Movie.
I had a bit of an issue with the way some people were responding to the trailer of the Stonewall Movie. I understand demanding historical accuracy in this issue, but I think it’s always really important to honor who both Sylvia and Marsha were in 2015. When you watch the documentaries about their lives, both of them lived and died as trans women. However, in 1969, they were more along the lines of what we would call “gender fluid” in 2015. But we can’t really apply that label to them as that wasn’t how they labeled themselves. They labeled themselves as “transvestites” and while that’s a cringeworthy term in 2015 to refer to what we view as trans women today, it’s how they self identified and I always think self identity should be honored. Some people want these women to be seen as binary trans women who should be played by the likes of Laverne Cox. I think Laverne is absolutely amazing and I think she’d pull off a mean Marsha, but I think people want her to have this role because she’s transgender and are overlooking the fact that 1969 Sylvia wasn’t really that similar to 2015 Laverne in terms of identity and presentation. I of course think she’d do an amazing job regardless.
To me, casting trans actors in roles is all about getting employment to trans people. Do I think it’s the hard and fast solution? No, I really don’t. I don’t mind, in some situations where cis actors play trans characters. I do think that the times where I’ve enjoyed that, the actors were extremely educated and were able to perform in a way that connected to me as a trans person. What I don’t like is paint-by-number trans narratives that almost always end up being a cis person’s interpretation of what a trans person must go through. For that reason and so many I think we need to support and promote trans actors as well as creators.
In conclusion, I don’t know why anyone would expect Rolan Emmerich to produce a film that wasn’t him placing himself into the narrative. In interviews he’s revealed that he didn’t even know about Stonewall until volunteering at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. Like so many people, he didn’t know about the riots that brought Gay Liberation to the mainstream not just in America, but all around the world. Like so many gay men, he is unaware of the reality of the history of being gay in America. The history of lobotomizations, police brutality, castration etc. I find it sort of upsetting that people don’t invest any time into researching how people who aren’t straight or cis have been treated in America, but realistically those stories don’t have as many historians devoting time and energy to making those stories as easy to digest as a Hollywood movie. To me, this was just a missed opportunity to tell a much deeper story that could have been historically accurate if it wanted to be. All of that aside, I do think that I need to see the film myself before really criticizing it. Now I only know so much about it, but the reviews confirm a lot of my fears. In the meanwhile, I think it’s worth supporting projects relating to Stonewall that are in desperate need of your funding and support. So feel free to check out the links below to find out how you can do so. We have to start supporting the people who are already attempting to create the type of films we want to see and stop expecting them to be made by mainstream cis, gay, white creators.
More on Stonewall:
Stonewall Veterans talk about that night- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nFxp…
Pay It Not Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P Johnson- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo0nY…
Sylvia Rivera’s Documentary- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybnH0…
Miss Major on the Whitewashing of the Stonewall Story- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcIR8…
Support these Films:
Major!- a film about Miss Major: http://www.missmajorfilm.com/donate.html
Happy Birthday Marsha: http://www.happybirthdaymarsha.com/do…