'Boycott Stonewall' petition says new movie whitewashes LGBT history

Stonewall, a new Fall-release film by director Roland Emmerich, is receiving backlash online from LGBTQ communities around the world, who say it whitewashes and ciswashes Greenwich Village's 1969 Stonewall Inn riot.

Some LGBTQ activists say film ignores role of black trans woman Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P Johnson is the black, trans woman who many eyewitnesses say started the Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1969. (Headstuff)

Many people in LGBTQ communities around the world are calling for a boycott of director Roland Emmerich's Fall-release film Stonewall, which they say "whitewashes" and "cis-washes" the story of the 1969 Stonewall Inn riot that mobilized New York's LGBTQ community.

The petition is posted on the Gay-Straight Alliance network's website and has more than 20,000 signatures so far.

Although eyewitness accounts cite black, trans activist Marsha P. Johnson as the instigator of the riot, the trailer for Stonewall seems to give a fictional, white, cisgender character named Danny with a key role in starting the riots.

Cisgender refers to an individual whose gender corresponds to their assigned sex at birth.

Anger and disappointment

The Stonewall trailer is making waves in Montreal, where the movie was filmed.

Kama La Mackerel, a performer and community organizer who identifies as a member of the city's racializedtrans community, says they are angry and disappointed with the film's treatment of the Stonewall story.

Kama La Mackerel is a trans woman of colour who lives in Montreal and says they were "appalled" by the Stonewall trailer. (Kama La Mackerel)

"My initial reaction was just to be appalled. At the same time, I was not too surprised. Across history, trans women of colour have been erased from history—those movements have just been whitewashed. From now on, every 16-year-old who sees this film, who does not see it from a critical lens, is going to believe that a white man threw that first brick."

La Mackerel said they will not boycott the film, but will stream it online when it is released to offer a critique of the film without contributing financially to the production.

Director responds to outrage

As the movement to boycott Stonewall gains support, director Roland Emmerich has responded to criticism on Facebook, saying that "when this film—which is truly a labour of love for me—finally comes to theatres, audiences will see that it deeply honours the real-life activists who were there."

The fictional character of Danny is played by British actor Jeremy Irvine. (Stonewall/Facebook)

That's little consolation for La Mackerel, who is also the founder of the Montreal-based Qouleur festival celebrating queer, trans, and two-spirited people of colour.

"I absolutely challenge the director on this statement. You can't pay tribute to the trans women of colour by [having them] in the background. It's like they're being tokenized. They're present in the shadow of a white man who wasn't even there at the time," La Mackerel said.

Reluctance to judge film before release

OUT Magazine film critic Matthew Hays visited the set of Stonewall and met director Roland Emmerich while the movie was being filmed in Montreal, last year.

"I understand why a lot of people of colour who see this trailer think, well, once again, something that a black, trans person did is being placed in the hands of a cute white boy, who looks like he belongs in pornography. That, for a lot of people, is disturbing, when they look at representation. I also want to say—let's see the film, before we judge," Hays said.

Atif Siddiqi is a trans person of colour who was an extra on the set of Stonewall, and said the treatment the story has received is nothing new in the film industry.

"I mean, it's so whitewashed today, with the star system, and the lead characters being these hot, white boys who will appeal to the majority of the audience. So if you're going to start boycotting films, then boycott everything. Don't go to the movies. Don't see anything. I mean, why do you start here?" Siddiqi said.

Boycott bolsters smaller production

As the conversation around Stonewall  continues, another film being made in New York City is receiving increased attention online. Happy Birthday, Marsha! is a film that tells the story of the days that immediately precede the Stonewall riot, focusing on trans women of colour Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. It is currently collecting donations for postproduction.