From the moment it was revealed that Roland Emmerich’s upcoming Stonewall movie would centre around a white, cisgender man, played by Jeremy Irvine, there were murmurs of discontent, as central to the riots of 1969 were trans* people of color, and so there was concern the movie would whitewash the birth of modern gay rights.
While the likes of Emmerich have attempted to address these concerns (at least obliquely), the moment the trailer hit a couple of days – which put Irvine’s character front and centre, with people of color and trans* people on the sidelines – some people got very angry and they’re already calling for a boycott.
For example, a petition has been started, which says, ‘To all considering watching the newest whitewashed version of queer history. It is time that black and brown transwomyn and drag queens are recognized for their efforts in the riots throughout the nation. From the preview alone, we know that will not be happening. Majority of characters casted are white actors, cis men play the role of transwomyn, and folks who began the riots do not seem to be credited with such revolutionary acts.
‘WE ARE CALLING A BOYCOTT OF STONEWALL. Do not throw money at the capitalistic industry that fails to recognize true s/heros. Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall. Tell your own history! Use social media to recall what you know to be true of Stonewall. Film your own short films. Make videos, write poems, sing songs. CONTINUE TO TEACH TRUE HISTORY.’
While you can understand the frustration and anger, it seems a little early to call for a boycott, as no one has actually seen the movie yet. Although unlikely to mollify the critics, it has been suggested that Irvine’s character is mainly used as a gateway to the Stonewall story and to characters a general audience may not easily immediately empathise with (even it is questionable whether they should pander to such prejudices, even if it might seem to the makers to make commercial sense in order to get more people into the cinema in the first place). However, the fact the synopsis is keen to point out it’s a fictionalised take on the true-story certainly gives us pause.
The petition certainly seems to be prejudging the movie based on only a short preview, although there are real questions to be answered, as pointed out in the article 5 Tweets That Sum Up Why People Are Upset About Stonewall.
The likes of Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie are undoubtedly central to the true story the film is based on, and hopefully Stonewall can do justice to them and people like them who helped fight back against the prejudice of society, and who certainly weren’t all white, cis men.
It has also been hinted at that Irvine’s character doesn’t actually directly start the riot, but instead starts out as a timid, rather wasp-ish character, who is inspired by the diverse people around him in New York in 1969 to become more active and proud, and that it is the actions of those others that teaches him to stand up and be counted. However we will have to wait and see exactly how the movie handles the story and whether it does completely white-wash the Stonewall riots.
The film is out in the US on September 25th.
If you want to know a bit more about the true story of Stonewall versus the film’s trailer, it’s well worth taking a look at Matt Baume’s take below: