Stonewall trailer shows how not to tell history

With the legalisation of same sex marriage in America, it marked for many a huge step for LGBTA people. The fight is by no means over, either in America or across the world, but it shows how far things have come from what is considered to be the beginning of the LGBTA rights movement; the Stonewall Riots.

The Stonewall Riots were a series of violent demonstrations in June of 1969 against the police in New York City in response to years of police brutality and raids in drinking establishments like the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Important figures in the riots included drag king Stormé DeLarverie and Trans drag queens Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. A year later would see the first gay pride parades happening across the US.

Now we have a new movie from director Roland Emmerich, simply entitled Stonewall, which aims to celebrate this revolution in all its diversity by telling the story from the point of view of a white guy.

Wait, what?

In the film Jeremy Irvine plays Danny, the small town kid in the big city, overwhelmed by the new experiences and who falls in with a gang of society’s rejects, where he helps start a key moment of history.

Except, no he didn’t, because he didn’t exist.

A fictional character as an entry point into real historical events in films is nothing new. However this particular case is an indicator of the wider problem in Hollywood of whitewashing history. They could easily have told this story from the point of view of one of the real black or Latino or Trans people who were there, but instead chose to focus on a generic white cisgendered everyman. Don’t get me wrong, the experience of a small town gay man in the late sixties would make for an interesting and emotional story, but by putting this character front and centre of something like Stonewall, you are erasing in the eyes of the movie-going public the major contributions of people whose voices and stories aren’t typically heard in mainstream media.

The trailer gives us the briefest hints of the involvement of drag queens and people of colour, and for all we know this could merely be a case of the trailer showing very little of the final film, but it still very much gives the impression of Irvine’s character leading the charge. As for those real people I mentioned earlier, people who would stand and fight for LGBTA rights for the rest of their lives, Marsha P Johnson is the only one that appears to be in the film as a character, and she is so far down the IMDB cast list she is below the role of “Woman with Poodle”. She is also being played by a man, another trend in Hollywood despite the number of Transgender actresses working today.

Alongside these major issues, the film looks cheap, clean and very stagey. Some of the early promo pictures of the rioters standing on a car look like something out of a bad movie musical.

I know I shouldn’t expect subtlety or political complexity from Emmerich, but this is the portrayal of key historical events that is going to be remembered by the mainstream public, and when they get it this wrong I can’t help but be angry. I don’t speak for the LGBTA community as a whole by any means, I am after all a straight white cisgender woman, but I know enough to know that this isn’t the right way to do this.

It’s greatly ironic that the trailer for the film proclaims to be telling the story of “the unsung heroes”. No it’s not. You’re not telling their story Roland Emmerich. The unsung heroes are still unsung, and you are helping to keep it that way.


Updated: Aug 06, 2015

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