This year has seen some landmark events for the LGBT community, and the new film Stonewall calls back to one of the most famous occurrences in LGBT history: the 1969 Stonewall Riots at Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village. Since the film uses the location's actual name as its title, one might assume that it is highly faithful to the real riots. Just how accurate is Stonewall when compared to the actual historical events? There has been some controversy surrounding this very question.
The most important thing to know is that this movie is a fictionalized story of one character's journey in relation to the riots and the New York gay community in the late 1960s. Jeremy Irvine stars as Danny Winters, a Midwestern boy who moves to NYC and learns that there is an entire population of people who embrace the very aspect of themselves that Danny has spent his life trying to hide. In keeping with Hollywood standards, Danny is a white cisgender male. The film has been criticized for this casting decision, as well as for its general lack of diversity and what critics are saying is a failure to represent the real people who were involved in the movement — like the trans women who were instrumental in causing change, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both of whom were missing from the movie's trailer. Johnson appears in the film, albeit just briefly, Gawker reports, and Rivera is consolidated with another character. For these reasons, after the trailer was released, petitions started calling for a boycott of the film.
One person who staunchly disagrees with this classification of the film as being "whitewashed" is the film's star, Irvine. PinkNews reported that he took to Instagram to defend both the film's historical significance and its inclusiveness, writing "to anyone with concerns about the diversity" that he can "assure you all that [the film] represents almost every race and section of society that was so fundamental to one of the most important civil rights movements in living history." Bustle has reached out to Roadside Attractions for comment, but hasn't heard back at this time.
Irvine's post has since been removed (PinkNews has a screenshot), but the actor has continued to be vocal in his support of the film. Here are a few of the points he made in the Instagram:
Real-Life Figures Are Featured In The Movie
Irvine noted that African-American transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson plays a huge role in the film just as in the real life events. Other historical characters in Stonewall include NYPD deputy inspector Seymour Pine and the controversial figure Ed Murphy.
The Trans Community & Minorities Are Represented
Irvine says he is staunchly opposed to the idea that the film under-emphasizes the importance of people of color and trans people in the movement. He addressed this several times in his Instagram post, saying "it is a fictional black transvestite character played by the very talented @vlad_alexis who pulls out the first brick in the riot scenes."
He also commented on how his character is adopted by a social group in the gay community, and how "the story is driven by the leader of this gang played by @jonnybeauchamp who gives an extraordinary performance as a Puerto Rican transvestite struggling to survive on the streets."
Although his message may be well-meaning, Irvine's language is not OK — GLAAD's reference guide for trans issues says that the term "transvestite" should never be used unless someone self-identifies as such, and that there are major differences between transgender people and cross-dressers (the term that should now replace "transvestites").
Some Characters Are Based On Groups
Irvine also noted that some characters are not derived from specific people but are instead symbolic, serving as archetypes for different groups. One such character is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who Irvine says "represents the Mattachine Society, who were at the time a mostly white and middle class gay rights group who stood against violence and radicalism." Meyers plays Trevor, a gay man who Danny eventually dates.
Irvine's words suggest that the actor believes the film does justice to the actual story, but some people are still upset by Stonewall's handling of such a highly-charged topic. The Hollywood Reporter noted that, while the movie tries to represent real-life events amidst the fictional narrative, "this fact-based area is perhaps the drama's weakest element, with a distinct feeling that crucial connective tissue has been lost along the way." Writing for Gawker, Rich Juzwiak, who is gay, wrote that director Emmerich "consciously watered down queerness to appeal to the masses."
"Rather than choose something debatable, the filmmakers created something definitively untrue. Rather than exploring the conflicting stories of what sparked the riot (was it Marsha P. Johnson’s shot glass, a high heel, a brick, or what?), which could have made for a fascinating formal exercise, they just credited the white guy," Juzwiak wrote.
Do you agree with Irvine, the film's opponents, or the reviewers? Go see Stonewall in theaters in order to formulate your own informed opinion.
Images: _jeremyirvine/Instagram, Roadside Attractions (3)