Stonewall: seeing history with tunnel vision

The Stonewall riots of 1969 were a pivotal moment in history. Stonewall, the recently released movie based on the riots, however, did not accurately portray the events that occurred. The riots initiated the LGBTQ community’s fight against prejudice, prompted more people to reveal their sexual orientations, and led to the acceptance of many people in the LGBTQ community and the strengthening and unifying of the community itself. The riots began at around 1:00 a.m. on June 28 when police attempted to raid a popular gay bar, the Stonewall Inn of Greenwich Village. The police had repeatedly tried to close the bar, accusing its patrons of being “sexual deviants,” but this raid turned into a four-day protest, involving thousands of LGBTQ activists. The riots gave rise to the creation of organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Youth, which allowed people to explore their identities outside of the stereotypes society had designated for them, an aspect of the movement which was overlooked in the film.

Released on September 25 and directed by Roland Emmerich, Stonewall had the potential to portray an immense change in American society, but it failed to convey the truth and left both film critics and LGBTQ activists disappointed with the product. There were stereotypes, misrepresentations, and blatant ignorance of the facts of the events that occurred.

Most predominantly, the movie cast a white, attractive male as the protagonist of the story. The producers did not seem to account for the misrepresentation of those involved in the riots as white, cis males. In reality, the movement was much more diverse, led not only by men, but by transgender women such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson. Unfortunately, the inherent biases did not stop there. A predictable stereotype of a young white male as the hero ensued.This focus on the role of white, straight men was also followed by a downplaying of the roles of many transgender people and people of color who had just as significant roles in the riots.

According to The Huffington Post, a scholar named Martin Duberman, who wrote a history of the Stonewall riots, remarked on the movie by saying, “Any movie [about Stonewall] that features a gay white man as the hero is historically inaccurate, and to say as much is not to be crazy.” The director of the film, Roland Emmerich, claimed on Facebook that the film honored the people of every race and gender who took part in the beginning of the movement, but many still hold that these people should not just be acknowledged, but should also be front and center in the portrayal of the history of the Stonewall riots, just as they were in the actual events.

Another historical inaccuracy was the condensing of the events into one night, instead of four very long and extremely brutal nights. The depiction of the riots as only one night diminishes the significance and magnitude of the fights that were fought along with the massive challenges that the protesters faced.

The Stonewall riots were a definitive moment in the history of the queer rights movement that brought together activists of all races, genders, and sexualities. Stonewall, Emmerich’s portrayal of the transformative event, undermines the effects and successes of the riots by condensing the timeline. The movie whitewashes its main characters and focuses on cisgender males, who were not the only driving forces behind the power of the riots. The movie was highly anticipated by the LGBTQ community, but failed to depict an authentic version of the incident.

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