We reported yesterday about the anger at the trailer for Stonewall, which had many up in arms accusing the movie of attempting to whitewash history, and replacing queer people of color with a white, cisgender gay man (played by Jeremy Irvine). As we suggested, it might be a little early to judge the movie, as we’ve only had a single trailer so far and no one has actually seen the full movie to see how it actually handles the story of the riots of summer 1969.
Director Roland Emmerich agrees (unsurprising), as he’s issued a statement, saying on Facebook, “When I first learned about the Stonewall Riots through my work with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, I was struck that the circumstances that lead to LGBT youth homelessness today are pretty much the same as they were 45 years ago. The courageous actions of everyone who fought against injustice in 1969 inspired me to tell a compelling, fictionalized drama of those days centering on homeless LGBT youth, specifically a young midwestern gay man who is kicked out of his home for his sexuality and comes to New York, befriending the people who are actively involved in the events leading up to the riots and the riots themselves.
“I understand that following the release of our trailer there have been initial concerns about how this character’s involvement is portrayed, but when this film – which is truly a labor of love for me – finally comes to theaters, audiences will see that it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there — including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Ray Castro — and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day. We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance.”
Jeremy Irvine also felt compelled to respond via Instagram, particularly picking up one of the things that got people the most angry – that it looks like his character threw the first brick of the Stonewall riots, when it’s believed that in real-life it was a trans woman of color. He says, “To anyone with concerns about the diversity of the #StonewallMovie. I saw the movie for the first time last week and can assure you all that it represents almost every race and section of society that was so fundamental to one of the most important civil rights movements in living history.
“Marsha P Johnson is a major part of the movie, and although first hand accounts of who threw the first brick in the riots vary wildly, it is a fictional black transvestite character played by the very talented @vlad_alexis who pulls out the first brick in the riot scenes. My character is adopted by a group of street kids whilst sleeping rough in New York.
“In my opinion, the story is driven by the leader of this gang played by @jonnybeauchamp who gives an extraordinary performance as a Puerto Rican transvestite struggling to survive on the streets. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character represents the Mattachine Society, who were at the time a mostly white and middle class gay rights group who stood against violence and radicalism. I felt incredibly nervous taking on this role knowing how important the subject matter is to so many people but Roland Emmerich is one of the most sensitive and heartfelt directors I’ve worked with and I hope that, as an ensemble, we have not only done such an important story justice but also made a good movie as well.”
While many people have already made up their mind about the movie, dismissed it and really don’t care what either Irvine and Emmerich have to say (despite the fact none of them have actually seen it and only have hearsay to decide precisely how it tells its story), there are other more moderate voices which are currently being drowned out, who feel that by creating controversy now we may end up ruining a chance to bring the story of one of the most pivotal moments in gay rights – including the importance of trans* and people of color – to a mainstream audience.
However both sides of the debate may want to wait until some people have actually seen the movie and can judge it on its own merits, not on just a two minute trailer. Perhaps it is as bad as some people are suggesting, but at the moment we really don’t know.