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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Upcoming “Stonewall” film lacks diversity

Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall”, slated for release on Sept. 25, depicts the historic Stonewall Riots of the late 1960s.

The Stonewall Inn, located in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, was a popular lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bar purportedly operated by the mafia.

Police raids on bars that served gay clientele were common at the time as a result of a lack of legal protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community. This particular raid, however, became violent as the community fought back against the police and continued to organize protests over the next several days.

Today, Stonewall is considered a main catalyst for the development of the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement.

Regrettably, the commonly reported histories, especially Emmerich’s new film depicting Stonewall, often fail to include all of the communities and people involved in the modern American LGBT movement.

So far, all that’s been released to the public of “Stonewall” is a two minute and 22 second trailer. But a lack of diversity and a clear focus on a white, cisgender man, already has many LGBTQ activists boycotting the film in the midst of complaints pertaining to its whitewashing of history.

Whitewashing, the tradition of giving roles intended for racially diverse characters to white actors or changing diverse characters into white characters, is nothing new in American cinema. People of color are grossly underrepresented in films and the default race for a character that doesn’t mandate a specific race is typically white.

To see a community that has faced so much discrimination and exclusion, like the LGBTQ community, partake in the same practice of whitewashing is frustrating for many people.

Quintessential members of the riots including Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who identify as trans women of color, all seem to be missing from the trailer and the IMDb cast of characters. In fact, other than a few minor roles, “Stonewall” appears to focus primarily on white, cisgender men, consequently ignoring many of the racial, sexual and gender minorities.

The reason this is problematic, besides just historical inaccuracy, is that erasing these voices leads to ignorance and marginalization of the oppressed communities. Gay and lesbian groups spent decades ignoring, shunning and excluding the transgender community from the movement in attempts to make the gay rights movement more palatable to the American people.

We have marriage equality in every state in the U.S. today, but for many transgender individuals, there are still numerous legal and societal hurdles to receive healthcare, employment and proper identification.

It’s the attitude of trans marginalization that brought us the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with only sexual orientation, not gender identity, as protected groups.

Unsurprisingly, this leaves transgender people as more likely to attempt suicide, live in poverty and be victims of assault than their straight and gay counterparts. These statistics only worsen when race is taken into account.

Even the typical timeline of the LGBT civil rights movement marginalizes the contributions of the transgender community.

The Compton Cafeteria Riots of 1966 were “the first known incident of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in U.S. history,” according to Susan Stryker, director of the Institute of LGBT Studies at the UA.

This is not to say that Stonewall wasn’t an important moment in LGBT history, but the erasure of the Compton Cafeteria Riots from the typical civil rights narrative can be partially attributed to its transgender emphasis.

To Emmerich’s credit, he did respond to the criticism and insisted that the movie is more diverse than the trailer suggests. It’s clear from interviews in various magazines that his intentions are well meaning, and giving the LGBTQ movement a shared narrative and visibility is an important step in establishing equality.

As long as the transgender and people of color communities continue to be excluded and their contributions minimized, the movement won’t succeed.

Follow Jacob Winkelman on Twitter.

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