On that June Night in New York City in 1969 on Christopher Street at the iconic Stonewall Inn, police pushed a group of queer rebels to their limits.
“We were in the Stonewall [bar] and the lights came on, said the late activist Sylvia Rivera, in a 2001 interview with Leslie Feinberg at the New York Gay & Lesbian Center. “We all stopped dancing.”
The latest of what were regular raids forced the bar patrons into the”hot, muggy” streets for the last time.
“We were not taking any more of this shit,” said the Puerto Rican woman of trans* experience who was 17 then. “We had done so much for other movements. It was time.”
The drag queens, gays and lesbians and transgender people of all stripes trapped the police inside the bar for 45 minutes according to Rivera’s account.
The riot now infamously called “Stonewall Rebellion” was the first time the LGBT community had physically fought back against police oppression. They had no idea that, with the toss of a bottle, it would be a riot for the history books.
“The people who did the most fighting were the drag queens and the hustlers,” said Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, one of the rioters, in an interview with David Carter for the book “STONEWALL: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.”
But that’s not the story that we seem to get in the latest Hollywood trailer for the movie “Stonewall”. The feature, coming to theatres in September, takes a different approach that has many upset. Queer and Trans activists of Color are taking to social media and more to express their outrage over images and a trailer released this week from Roland Emmerich’s upcoming wide release feature. Centered in the posters and the trailer is a white, seemingly cis-gender man from the midwest who is seen throwing the first brick…and many in the QPOC and greater LGBTQ communities are calling the portrayal “erasure” , and a “whitewashed” and “cis-washed” version of reality.
“It’s kind of upsetting and equally disappointing,” said Pat Cordova-Goff , a California-based college-student, writer and activist of POC trans womyn experience featured for her story on cable network Fusion. “The fact that I wasn’t shocked is the reason I became angry.” The anger made her create the GSA Unite petition to boycott the movie that, since Wednesday 5 August, received over 12,000 signatures — with more and more adding with each page refresh. Cordova-Goff thinks the support is “empowering,” but, along with the supporters, there are some who disagree.
“I am seeing many queer folks who are just not understanding of why we are doing this and where we are coming from, and often times those queer folks who are not supporting the petition are cis gay men,” said Cordova-Goff via phone.
Many accounts cite Sylvia Rivera as the woman who threw the first projectile in the riot. Others, like sources in Carter’s book, cite Marsha P. Johnson as someone who was yelling in the middle of it all and throwing rocks at the start. Rivera says in a 2001 speech about the movement that “This was started by the street queens of that era, which I was part of, Marsha P. Johnson, and many others that are not here.”
Images from the time vary, some showing predominantly white crowds while others with queer and trans people clearly among the groups. Despite the debate on who threw what and who was there, the negative reaction this trailer, that “coincidentally” comes on the heels of another arguably white-washed movement, marriage equality, caused has been swift, vocal and unapologetic. The erasure of people who aren’t white, able-bodied cis-gender people is nothing new; people are no longer shocked, but they are very much angry.
Who’s narrative is it anyway? Transgender women of color started the Stonewall Riot! No movie will erase the true history of the LGBT rights movement. Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera & Miss Major Griffin-Gracy were not background actresses in this movement. They were the leading ladies of this movement. The real revolutionary S.T.A.R.’s! Any movie produced telling you otherwise is a flat out lie! Boycott the @StonewallMovie!!! #WeWillNotBeSilenced #TransHistory #SylviaRivera #MarshaPJohnson #StopTransErasure #TransErasure #StopTheShade #BlackLivesMatter #BlackTransLivesMatter #TransLivesMatter #TransIsBeautiful #ABeautifulTransition #Transgender #TWOC #StonewallMovieFake #StonewallMovie #Disaster #BoycottStonewallMovie #STAR #Stonewall #StonewallInn
“It’s hurtful…it’s insulting…it’s infuriating…I actually have made the disconcerted effort to not view the trailer,” said Elizabeth Marie Rivera, a case worker and activist of trans experience living in New York. “I had a feeling that the trailer…that the movie… was going to be, I’m just going to be plainly honest, garbage.”
Rivera took to social media shortly after she heard the news, and started posting images on social media explaining her thoughts. The long-time activist, who works with queer and trans youth, made the comparison to James Cameron’s “Titanic” and how that fictional story wrapped around the historical event.
“Imagine James Cameron filming ‘Titanic’ with no iceberg,” said Rivera.
Rivera continued that “Titanic” seemed to stick more to history even with fictional stories, while “Stonewall” seemed to change history for marketing and box-office sales.
“The fact that this movie has been made in the way that it has is a good example…a good point to how we’re still struggling for visibility, for acknowledgement, for recognition. That we’re not even being recognized as being historical figures that created a movement that created rights. And the people who got this started were Marsha P Johnson, Silvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and others who were there,” said Rivera.
The IMDB listing for the movie lists a character with the name “Marsha P. Johnson”, but is listed far down on the list of characters, in the full cast list on IMDB. Another recognizable name, Ray Castro, is listed as one of the top 5 characters in the movie. Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico, is being played by Puerto Rican actor Johnny Beauchamp according to IMDB records. Emmerich makes a reference in an interview with Vulture that Beauchamp is straight, saying” I think Jeremy did an amazing job playing gay, acting gay, and then there were gay actors who also did an amazing job. It was more about who was the best actor for the part, and I always do it like that.” The article also indicated that gays and lesbians were cast, but the one recognizeable trans* character seems to be cast by cis male Brooklyn-born actor of Nigerian heritage Otoja Abit. Beauchamp has also played a trans* identified character on the show Penny Dreadful. The cast list doesn’t include Sylvia Rivera or Miss Major.
“It’s ironic that given the visibility with the trans community that the director would even do this,” said Rivera. She noted that with visible trans* storylines becoming more prevalent in media, that it would make sense that the director would want to capitalize on that, and depict more trans* and gender non-conforming people in the initial trailers. Emmerich made a statement on his Facebook page in response to the criticism that the trailer release caused, which also leaves activists like Cordova-Goff unsatisfied.
“I hear a lot of ‘white savior complex’ in that a cis man hears a sad story and thinks it’s his responsibility to get the story out there, as if people of Color aren’t trying to do that… for example “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” said Cordova-Goff, in reference to another project in the works focusing on events leading up to that night at Stonewall. And, in light of the attention on “Stonewall” erasing QTPOC stories, many have put the spotlight on that story of legendary activist Marsha P. Johnson co-directed by Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel. According to information on the site, the movie is is currently in Post-Production and the film creators are seeking donations to bring it to screen. Cordova-Goff said that supporting movies like “Happy Birthday, Marsha” is really what Hollywood should do to support QTPOC communities.
“I honestly think in order to be allies they basically need to be intentional about creating space for people to tell our own stories instead of putting millions towards a white actor telling our story for us,” said Cordova-Goff, who said that we need to do a better job of lifting all of our less-visible communities up at once, queer and trans people of color, sex workers, drag queens, all of the most marginalized. And for many who are hopeful that the movie isn’t going to be as bad as many think it will be, the biggest impact is that anyone who might watch “Stonewall”, they’ll come away not knowing the richness of that movement and it’s complete diversity. And although Emmerich says that “We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance,” Cordova-Goff and others say the interpretation of how he and the writer depicted the events of 1969 shows a clear difference, to the detriment of viewers new to the movement.
“They’re getting a whitewashed cis-washed version of our actual history. And that’s not doing justice for our communities,” said Cordova-Goff.
The film is scheduled to debut at the Toronto Film Festival in September, and in wide release thereafter. Until the full movie is released, it’s still up for debate how inclusive “Stonewall” will be. But activists like Cordova-Goff and Rivera said that the reality is that our most marginalized communities can’t afford to be erased any longer, because their lives depend on it. And whether or not the movie is more accurate than meets the eye, more is to come to make these voices heard, because their communities are still feeling the impact of the injustice, erasure and indifference toward against them – and, as we recognize an alleged 11 murders of trans* women of color this year in America, anti-trans* violence transphobia is still very real and deadly.
“It’s those types of things that make me realize that we have a long, long, long way to go…and this movie certainly didn’t help that,” said Rivera.