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Stonewall: History Whitewashed Once Again

I recently watched Roland Emmerich’s trailer for Stonewall, an LGBT drama about gay life and the Stonewall riots during the 1960s in New York City.  Arguably, Stonewall was the catalyst that launched the Gay Rights Movement. On a personal level, Stonewall represents one of the only times in history where my identities of being gay and Black are collectively just fighting to exist. So, as a gay, Black man, I really want to be excited for this film. I want to root for it and I want to want to see Stonewall.  However, as I watched the trailer, I couldn’t help but to cringe and give my monitor the side eye.

The film’s trailer features a white, cisgender male as the focal point of the movie’s plot line. In the trailer, British actor Jeremy Irvine, who plays Danny in the film, is seen throwing the first brick at the start of the Stonewall riots. Now, I haven’t seen the entire movie yet. But I’m praying and chanting that Mr. Emmerich doesn’t try to okie doke us with this same, tired narrative of the “Great White Hope.” Historically, and contrary to the film’s trailer, Marsha P. Johnson a Black trans female LGBT activist who performed as a drag queen and Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican and Venezuelan transgender activist and drag queen are widely known to be the fuel that ignited and sustained the Stonewall Riots. In fact, reports attribute Johnson throwing the first brick while Rivera yelled, “I’m not missing a minute of this, it’s the revolution!” She was also one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle as police escorted patrons from the bar. Again, I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, but the trailer seems to ladder up to Hollywood’s agenda of whitewashing history.

Ya know Genghis Khan was really a white man right (John Wayne as Genghis Khan in the Conqueror, 1956)? Sorry Black people, your Cleopatra was really a blue-eyed white woman (Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, 1963). Alicia Nash, John Nash’s wife in A Beautiful Mind wasn’t really from El Salvador. She was a white American woman clearly because she was played by Jennifer Connelly. The above aren’t examples of creative merit or license. It’s eroding people of color from history through the lenses of mainstream culture. Not to mention, it’s just flat out disrespectful to cast a white face on the contributions of Black history makers.

The roles for Black actors are already scarce, so to be denied a role and/or given a backseat character role to portray historical activists who championed for an even playing field just seems ass backwards to me. Hijacking Black history to tell a smudged story is another form of racism that sometimes gets awarded with an Oscar. In essence, Hollywood is saying Black history only matters if a white person is the face of it. And seeing that Black history is American history, everyone should be offended.

Independent of any Hollywood blockbuster or who’s casted for the role, the contributions of these historical figures carry value and historical currency that is still felt today. While I agree with the trailer’s opening tagline, “For every movement, and injustice, there is a moment that changes history.” I’m still asking for Hollywood stop sprinkling Black history with blonde hair.

terrence

Terrence Chappell surfaced on Chicago’s media scene as UR Chicago Magazine Online’s fashion editor. Since then, he has worked and contributed to various media outlets such as Michigan Ave. Magazine, CS Magazine, and The Men’s Book. Currently, Terrence serves as the editor-at-large for ChicagoPride.com, the city’s largest LGBT entertainment and news website where he writes “Chappell Confidential,” a nightlife and society column. Terrence also heads “Chappell on Community,” the site’s newest editorial monthly series that profiles the LGBT community’s most innovative leaders.