Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were transgender women and gay liberationists. One was a drag and the other a street queen, and both embodied what it was like to be a LGBT person in the late 20th century. They represented what the Stonewall riots were all about. Yet in the big screen tribute to these riots, their legacy is nowhere to be found. Instead, the main character is portrayed by a white cisgender, or non-transgender, male actor.
This summer a trailer for the upcoming movie “Stonewall” was released. The trailer was expected to epitomize the universal feeling of joy and liberation in the U.S. after gay marriage was made legal nationwide. Unfortunately, it did the opposite.
The Stonewall riots were a series of impromptu and violent protests by LGBTQ people that took place outside of the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969. These demonstrations were said to be one of the most important liberation acts that began the movement for gay rights in the U.S.
Although the movie hasn’t been released, the trailer shows a young white man moving from his small town home to big, booming New York City. He soon finds himself immersed in gay culture in a borough filled with all different types of people from the LGBT community. Despite his friendship with them, it seems like the spotlight is on this white male character when it should really be shining on his friends and the gay community.
One scene in it particular really bothered me. In the actual Stonewall riots, one of the biggest catalysts to it was a brick thrown at a building which really started the demonstration. The two women credited for this action were transgender drag queens Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, and although they are incorporated into the movie – Johnson is her own character and there is a character based off Rivera – their actions are being portrayed by a fictional white man.
Andrew Edds, a junior and a member of Gay Straight Alliance, said, “I’m generally happy that this movie is being made. It shines a new light on something that isn’t shown very much. Generally, people are interested with the history of black or women’s rights, and the history of gay rights gets overlooked.”
But he continued in a more critical tone. “That said, I find it to be outrageous that the movie was casted the way it was. It’s not true, it’s not correct, and it’s obvious that it was intentional. I understand that these are the kind of things that Hollywood and modern day film has to do in order for more people to be interested in the film, but this is a different scenario and it’s offensive.”
So, when is an historical fiction piece considered to have too much fiction?
I believe it is when someone else’s actions or work is being credited to a fictional character. I’m not saying that you can’t create a fictional hero in a historical piece, but when it gets to the point where this character is taking the credit for someone else’s action, it takes away from the actual historical event.
After I watched the trailer on YouTube, I scrolled down to look at the comments and I was overwhelmed with comment after comment saying “Whitewashing.”
Whitewashing is a term used when a movie or a TV show casts their picture with primarily white actors, even when the real-life characters are actually of a different ethnicity.
Even with the unfortunate casting, it is still worth watching. Hopefully people can look past the main character that is causing the controversy and pay more attention to why the Stonewall riots are important and how far we’ve come.
“Stonewall” will be in Singapore theatres on Nov. 5.