Activists are calling for a boycott of a new film about the birth of the gay rights movement, claiming that it has “whitewashed” history by placing a fictional white male at the centre of the action.
The controversy comes in response to the release of the first trailer for the film Stonewall.
It tells the story of the 1969 Stonewall riots, in which gay, drag and trans patrons of New York City’s Stonewall Inn bar fought back against homophobic police officers.
The incident inspired the world’s first-ever Pride parade through the city’s streets the next year.
Openly gay Hollywood director Roland Emmerich, however, has been blasted for casting blonde English model and actor, Jeremy Irvine, as a fictional white, cisgender male character in the lead.
Emmerich has been accused of erasing the real-life role of the people behind the riots and the fledgling gay rights movement, most of whom were drag, transgender, lesbian and people of colour.
In the film, Irvine’s character appears to be shown throwing a brick that led to the riots. It is, however, two transgender women of colour, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who are credited with throwing rocks or bottles that unleashed the community’s fury.
A petition to boycott Stonewall has been launched, describing the film as “the newest whitewashed version of queer history.” Petition creator Pat Cordova-Goff writes that, “It is time that black and brown transwomyn and drag queens are recognized for their efforts in the riots.
The late Stonewall activist Martha P. Johnson
“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,” she said.
Added Cordova-Goff: “Do not throw money at the capitalistic industry that fails to recognize true s/heros. Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall.”
Emmerich has responded to the criticism, writing on Facebook that the trailer is not reflective of the movie itself.
“The courageous actions of everyone who fought against injustice in 1969 inspired me to tell a compelling, fictionalized drama… centering on homeless LGBT youth, specifically a young midwestern gay man who is kicked out of his home for his sexuality and comes to New York, befriending the people who are actively involved in the events leading up to the riots and the riots themselves,” said the director.
“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 – and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day.”
Emmerich added: “We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance.”
Stonewall will be released in the US in September. Watch the movie’s controversial trailer below and judge for yourself.