Letters from a Lesbian Column
If you haven’t heard by now, there is a movie titled Stonewall, which is now out in theatres.
This film has been garnering a lot of attention, and not for good reason.
People are saying it is “whitewashed,” omitting LGBTs of color – especially some of the key players in the actual riots. It is incredibly important to understand that Stonewall was a hot spot for minority LGBTs, especially the black and Hispanic community. There is no mention of Sylvia Rivera, which is a huge blow to us Hispanic LGBTs.
Sylvia Rivera (born Ray Rivera Mendosa) was a pioneer for the entire LGBT community. Born July 2, 1951, she was only seventeen when the Stonewall riots occurred. When the police raided the Stonewall Inn (in Greenwich Village in New York City) on June 27, 1969, she was in the crowd that gathered outside the bar. Rivera is attributed to have shouted, “I’m not missing a minute of this, it’s the revolution!” Indeed it was. And at seventeen, she was one of the heroes of our revolution. Police arrested customers, and then escorted them from the bar into police vehicles. As they did so, Rivera was one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle in their direction. Thus the riots began.
What ensued were several days of protests and riots. It was an incredibly tense and dangerous time for everyone.
Going back to this upcoming movie about Stonewall, it’s easy to see why people are angry at the omissions of people like Rivera.
The film was created as a way to tell the story of The Stonewall Inn and the ensuing riots. For the LGBT community, this is a wonderful sentiment. It can teach the younger LGBTs the history of gay pride, and the significance of Stonewall. For us more “seasoned” LGBTs, it reminds us of our roots, of where we’ve been and what we’ve done; it also brings our struggles to the public eye.
Because of that, expectations for this movie were high – very high. Many people were shocked and appalled when they saw the trailer for the movie and found a very Caucasian cast. So shocked and appalled were they, that petitions have been made and signed to boycott this movie.
We minority LGBTs are very often secondary characters. Rarely do we see, hear, or read stories with LGBTs of color playing the lead character(s). It can be demeaning and frustrating for minority LGBTs to take a back seat to their Caucasian counterparts. A film such as this rubs more salt into that already raw wound.
To counter that, though, this movie is marked as fictitious. If this movie is only loosely based on the events that took place in late June 1969, can we really resent Roland Emmerich for making his movie his way?
So, where do we stand with Stonewall?
That’s a good question. Ultimately, we most likely will not know until we’ve all seen it. Before we watch it, there are a few things we should consider. First, this movie is not billed as an historic documentary. Secondly, the riots were started by black and Hispanic LGBTs, with many trans people leading the way.
We need to know our history (especially going into seeing this film), but we also need to remember that fiction can and will change things. If we are truly knowledgeable and respectful of/to our history, if we can understand the depth, gravity, and sacrifices made, if we can honor all of those who stood up, we will do our community a tremendous service. If we can watch Stonewall, knowing the facts, but appreciating the fiction, we might just find that this film is another step in the right direction for our community. Ultimately, the struggles of the LGBT community are universal for all of us, regardless of skin color. Stonewall will always be one of the greatest turning points for LGBTs of every color.
Live life in your own special way,