When Roland Emmerich’s movie about the iconic Stonewall gay rights riots was preparing for its US release last year, it came in for a lot of criticism for whitewashing the events. Many felt that by concentrating on a young, white, ‘twink’ (played by Jeremy Irvine), it was sidelining the importance of trans people and people of color to the events.
The very angry condemnation helped ensure the movie bombed horrifically at the box office.
However, the director isn’t backing down. Now that he’s on the press trail for Independence Day: Resurgence he’s decided to double down with a comment that can’t help but sound racist, even if he didn’t mean it that way. He told The Guardian, “My movie was exactly what they said it wasn’t. It was politically correct. It had black, transgender people in there. We just got killed by one voice on the internet who saw a trailer and said, this is whitewashing Stonewall. Stonewall was a white event, let’s be honest. But nobody wanted to hear that any more.”
Over the last 45 years there has been much discussion about the contribution of different groups to the riots, and at this remove it is difficult to precisely say who threw the first rock or how many members of different parts of the LGBTQ community were represented and exactly what they did. Photographs of the riots show many different people involved though.
Some people undoubtedly feel the contribution of trans and people of color has been overstated, while others believe that emphasising the white men there is an attempt to play down the fact it may well not have been them who were key to what happened. It is certainly true though that for the first 20 or so years after the riots it was almost exclusively depicted as about mainly white men fighting back, with other people’s contribution almost totally ignored and sometimes deliberately silenced.
While the criticism of Emmerich’s movie was hyperbolic – partly because the vast majority of it was based on the trailer rather than the actual movie – he still doesn’t seem to get what the criticism actually was, which is that while insisting events are seen through white eyes may make commercial sense, it still has a tendency to marginalise others.