The Stonewall riots are widely considered one of the most important events in LGBT history, triggering the birth of the LGBT liberation in 1969.
This birth was lead by activists, campaigners, people that were tired of being manipulated and walked over by a society made up of many that didn’t care about them. These activists, campaigners and people were primarily trans women of colour (TWOC), drag queens and butch identifying lesbians. Let this be heard.
It’s come to pass that a film entitled ‘Stonewall’ is due for release at the end of September in the US. Backlash arose almost immediately, and understandably so.
While comment can only be made on the trailer alone, before its official release in the US, it appears that the movie has little thought for preserving the integrity of the Stonewall riots.
It’s true that films are often fiction based on fact, but that doesn’t seem to be the agenda of this film. It might have a fictitious protagonist, but it self-proclaims to be based on an actual event. There is a sense of irony that has evoked anger among many people in LGBT communities across the world. A film intended to pay homage to the ‘unsung heroes of the riots’ (as it tells us it will in the trailer), has instead actively replaced them, or at least the majority of them.
The true ‘unsung heroes’ of the riots have been lost.
Marsha ‘Pay it no mind’ Johnson is a trans woman of colour who is commonly identified as the woman who threw the first brick (or was it a shot glass?) that identified her as a freedom fighter. In contrast, the trailer shows fictitious cis-white-male Danny throwing the first brick in Marsha’s place.
Stormé Delavarie, a butch bi-racial lesbian and drag king is noted to have thrown the first punch in an act of self-defense in the face of police brutality. Stormé doesn’t make the Stonewall film’s cut, though we do hear a woman being detailed by police shouting a version of her famous line ‘Why don’t you guys do something?’.
Miss Major and Sylvia Rivera are TWOC, campaigners and activists that were incredibly present in the Stonewall riots. They are nowhere to be seen as far as we’re led to believe; erased from their own history and undermined by the work that goes into ‘preserving’ it. These four trailblazers, Marsha P Johnson, Storme Delarvie, Miss Major and Sylvia Rivera, deserve our attention.
Roland Emmerich’s identity as a gay man has been used by some to justify making the film and owning its artistic decisions. And that includes erasing the TWOC that mattered then and matter now. This is where it’s important to maintain an intersectional viewpoint. This isn’t just the small matter of one decision over another, it all links to the wider issues of male privilege, white privilege, misogyny, misogynoir, sexism, racism, transmisogyny, transphobia, butchphobia and lesbiphobia to name a few.
Being part of a marginalised community doesn’t give anyone a free pass to decide what or who should represent it, to portray our history for somebody else’s gaze.
Exchanging the trans women of colour that paved the way for LGBT liberation with a white, cisgender man for ‘entertainment purposes’ could be considered transmisogyny, and should not be tolerated. This is inexcusable, and this continual erasure as a cultural choice needs reassessing urgently.
Frankly, I’m craving a taste of truth, of real LGBT history. A history fought by TWOC then, in the midst of the riots, and a future being fought by TWOC every day. I have little regard for the things that matter being sugar-coated and regurgitated to suit the palette of cis[het]-white-male audiences.
This could have been a great opportunity for Hollywood to do justice to LGBT communities worldwide; to give a much-needed platform to trans actors of colour and other LGBT actors. It could have been an opportunity to give visibility to marginalised groups and empower the legacy of the LGBT giants, on whose shoulders we stand.
If the trailer is anything to go by, this is an opportunity wasted; a story that chooses part fiction in place of a whole compelling truth.
And for that, we refuse to forgive and forget.
Hold our pioneers dear. Remember them.
Say their names.