This movie about a riot is on the verge of causing one.
'Stonewall' will be making its international debut at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Friday, aiming to celebrate the unsung heroes of the night a liberation movement began.
But the film has incited boycotts and protests by Stonewall veterans and members of queer and trans communities, who say it's guilty of whitewashing and erasing what trans women of colour did at Stonewall.
Inspired by the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, the movie rewrites history in part with Danny, a fictional, white cisgender runaway from Kansas, and places his narrative within the riots that were a catalyst in sparking gay and trans liberation rights in America; the riots that racialized trans women are credited for leading, but who in the film are reportedly relegated to minor roles or erased completely.
The controversy started in August with the release of Stonewall’s trailer, causing widespread criticism in activism circles, with many using #NotMyStonewall and #BoycottStonewall on social media to voice their concerns.
Some of the criticism expressed with #NotMyStonewall:
- Those unaware of historic events will assume gay rights paved the way for transgender rights, wrote Jules Horowitz, when in reality trans activists have been movement leaders for decades
- In an editorial, Janet Mock blames Hollywood’s fixation on white saviors like Danny
- Trans activsm pioneers Miss Major, Marsha P Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera are notably absent or minor in their contributions to the film, says Erin Logan
- Matilda actress Mara Wilson said 'Stonewall' is “Twinkifying” the revolution
- Using cis actors for trans roles is a problem, according to Matt Keeley
In protest, anonymous activists painted New York City’s Stonewall statues, inspired by Stonewall veteran Miss Major’s interview with Autostraddle on the movie's whitewashing.
In Toronto, trans community members have organized “Boycott, Protest and Teach In At the TIFF Stonewall Premiere,” during Stonewall’s showtimes. Protesters will be educating those who attend on who was actually present at the riot.
“Hollywood has for too long whitewashed and erased trans people from historical narratives in films,” organizer Danielle Waters wrote in a press release.
The press release asks for those who would have seen Stonewall to instead donate the cost of their ticket to trans-positive organizations and causes.
Stonewall director Roland Emmerich acknowledged backlash on Facebook, saying his fictionalized drama will pay tribute to real-life activists:
"... 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 — and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day. We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance."
Playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer stood by Stonewall director Roland Emmerich. In a reply on Facebook, he advised Staley to not “listen to the crazies.”
Last week, another glimpse of Stonewall was released, featuring trans activism pioneer Marsha P. Johnson. However, the clip has been criticized as an attempt to fend off accusations of trans erasure and white washing.
'Stonewall' opens in theatres Sept. 25.
With files from Lisa Yeung
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