As an artist and educator who considers himself to be a fairly critical thinker, I witnessed the online vitriol about the soon to be released 2015 film ‘Stonewall.’ And I thought that, in good conscience, I could not allow myself to be swept up in the collective anger about a historical film adaptation, i.e., a fictionalized drama of the past, which though rumored to be inaccurate (as almost all historical adaptation are), has yet to be released.
But then I fucked up and saw the trailer. What I know about film is that everything in the frame is the intentional choice of that director. What I understand about a trailer as marketing tool is that it is specifically targeted and the manner in which it is created is again intentional. I sat in my studio watching the carefully crafted promotional piece within which we are baited by sepia tones, dramatic lighting, and a heroic score that foreshadows the great epic story to be told.
I saw the seductive images from the (Black) civil rights movement and heard the unmistakable voice of Barak Obama speaking to a history of resistance and the profound impact of liberation movements on this nation as the apparent lead-in to the coming of age and coming out story of a mid-western white boy who lands in the middle of a world and struggle with folks who, with few exceptions, look just like him.
I couldn’t help think to myself “Mississippi god damn!” Here we go again.
But today, I’m feelin’ forgiving of white-folk. Since I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that the voices, faces, and characters of the people who were central to the Stonewall Rebellion and its aftermath will be woven in the tapestry of this story:
Stormé DeLaverie a “butch lesbian” who, in her defense, threw the first punch at a NYC police officer that night; Silvia Rivera, a bisexual, trans Latina who it is said have thrown the first bottle at the police as they began knocking heads and beating folks down; Griffin-Gracy a Black trans woman who had her jaw broken in custody during the three days of rebellion; Marsha P. Johnson one of New York’s best known Drag Queens at the time, who was also one the first to fight back after Stormé through that fateful punch; Ray Castro and Brenda Howard a bisexual woman and the Mother of Pride, who organized the first ever march on the anniversary one year later in 1970,
A little known fact of this history, which is the constant target of whitewashing, is that the Stonewall Rebellion in June 1969 started on the backs of working class African Americans and Latinos. The Stonewall Inn—a dilapidated hole in the wall with reportedly over flowing toilets, no fire exits or liquor license (because it was illegal to sell alcohol to homosexuals) was operated by the Genovese crime family who had to pay off the police almost weekly just to keep its doors open even thought it still got raided regularly—was most frequently patronized by African Americans and Latinos.
Black and Latino homeless youth, who slept in nearby Christopher Park, saw the Stonewall Inn as their place of refuge. Therefore, on the first night of the Stonewall Rebellion, African Americans and Latinos made up a huge percentage of the protestors. In an article detailing her experience of searching for a neighbor that first night, Rev. Irene Monroe reflected on these racial dynamics, “Race is said to have been another factor, (that) the decision by the police to raid the bar in the manner they did may have been influenced by the fact that most of the “homosexuals” they would encounter were of color, and therefore even more objectionable.”
Those brown and black LGT and bi-identified people are not only absent from the historic pictures of that night but they have also been written out of the history. I have not seen the film but it appears from the trailer that in service of a preference for films with white male lead characters we have been written out of this historical film adaptation as well.
On September 25th 2015, Roland Emmerich’s film Stonewall opens to the public. We won’t really know until we see it, but if the trailer is any indication of the film, at the very least, it is problematic. Problematic because popular history is history for most Americans and films like this will eventually become the primary source documents used to teach the stories and histories of non-monosexual people in our schools. If the people of color who were actually there are not represented in their centrally to the history, then the film will be nothing more than the latest example of how the voices, histories, and contributions of bi-identified and trans people of color are often marginalized and thus erased from LGBT movement work.
Nonetheless, my advice is to see it. You don’t have to spend your money if you don’t want to feed the capitalist machine that does not now, nor ever will represent you. But see it—with notebook in hand, understanding it as merely the singular point of view of a privileged, white male who probably would not be where he is, doing the work he is able to do, if not for the people he is poised to omit. See it understanding that this cannot be the definitive film about this ongoing liberation and human rights movement. See it as a call to action.