The film’s main character is a white, cis gay man.
A petition authored by the Gay-Straight Alliance with more than 15,000 signatures is calling for a boycott of Roland Emmerich’s new film, Stonewall, which depicts the 1969 riots that sparked the gay rights movement in New York. Activists are angry at the new movie because they say it whitewashes a struggle led by people of color and trans people. The lead protagonist of Emmerich’s film, a white gay man named Danny played by Jeremy Irvine, is seen in the trailer of the film throwing the first brick at the Stonewall Inn to incite the riots. Activists, however, say that it was in reality Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman, who was the first to do so. While Johnson is included in the film credits, it excludes other notable non-white activists, like Sylvia Rivera, who was considered among the most important figures of the LGBTQ movement.
“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,” the Gay-Straight Alliance writes in the petition. “WE ARE CALLING A BOYCOTT OF STONEWALL. Do not throw money at the capitalistic industry that fails to recognize true s/heros.”
Tweet by Twitter user jungle julia (@sweetlifeondick)
The trailer to the film was released on Tuesday, to the deep displeasure of many LGBTQ activists. Not only does it marginalize prominent non-white figures, they say, but the activists depicted in the riot appear to be majority white and cis. Emmerich was forced to address the criticism on his Facebook, with no apology.
“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,” he wrote. “We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance.”
One problem with that: it’s not just about who you deign to include in the stories you tell. It’s especially important who you choose to center and highlight within those stories. Emmerich’s decision to make a white cis man the main figure of a movement led and propelled by the efforts of non-white and trans people says a lot about our culture’s reluctance to recognize the specific struggles of non-white and trans people.