Hollywood is infamous for distorting historical truths in the name of better entertainment. Hollywood is also infamous for limiting staring roles for minority actors and as a result stunting the careers of many promising black actors. This time in the telling of the infamous queer riot in New York City, Hollywood has set aside key people of color for the queer movement and replaced them with cis male white actors. Key moments of history are being portrayed in favor of a more heteronormal sexualized version of the queer movement. See, Stonewall was sexy, and thats why you should come see our movie, says Hollywood.
He is a sexy man-boy, someone anyone who is attracted to men would find enticing. He throws the first brick, which is symbolic of the entire rebellion, which happened in response to police harassment and raids. When members of the LGBTQ community violently reacted to the barrage of physical harassment and provocation, it wasn’t sexy or pretty. It was a group of people fighting dearly for their lives. In all fairness, Hollywood does have to operate on a sexiness factor, and sexing up the story a little is fair game for mass production. However, taking the power away from the marginalized people who were responsible for the entire ordeal is disrespectful.
Marsha P. Johnson is widely credited with throwing the first brick. This is her:
She is poor, she is marginalized, she is black, and she is trans. Her life was one of vulnerability and genuine originality. She worked to lift an entire community out of the broken mess that was created by the hatred of the greater world, and was beautiful in her own character and being. She and friend Slyvia Riveria created the group “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)” which was an advocacy street organization for transgender and gender queer people. She even had associations to Andy Warhol, who asked her what the “P” stood for in her name to which she replied “Pay it no mind”. To sass Andy in his day was a bold move, one that gained her notoriety among the New York queer and arts scene. She was also an AIDS activist in ACT UP, a now international organization that started in the streets of New York by gay and queer people seeking better care and research on the AIDS virus.
Her sexuality and sexual orientation are one of an obscure nature, not a lot of people share that sexuality or sexual attraction, so her story isn’t going to be considered by Hollywood producers to be a money maker. She could be a quirky side character, a mention in the film, a noted footnote, but not the focus of the film. The director of the film responded to criticism about ignoring Marsha in this message:
Very slick, very Hollywood, very “hey folks, remember its fictionalized, so its okay if we distort the reality a little bit”. Its classic solipsism, something that is taken for the perspective that is the more entertaining, relatable, normalized version of events. This means making the focus of a queer story, something that is already a marginalized perspective, into a cis-male white protagonist because in utility, he is the character the most number of people are going to be able to relate to. The truth is the casualty.
Many within the queer community are calling for a boycott of the film. I view it as the next Rent: a sterilized version of a very serious story where people where beaten, had their rights denied, and died. While I can appreciate that the story was told, the way in which it is conducted is very important to the dignity of the people who lived it. Ignoring Marsha P. Johnson is like ignoring George Washington, or saying that he was not that important in the American Revolution. Marsha is credited with throwing the first brick that sparked the riots. This is significant and not something that should be ignored.
If this had been an independent film, odds are that the story-line would have been more congruent with the truth. However, independent films are not as widely distributed so then not as many people would see the story of Stonewall. But, it is the fictionalized version of Stonewall, one where black trans people are ignored, the very people who held such an integral role within the movement. Hollywood needs to be questioned on this because it is ignorant to not have the main character have any connection to Marsha P. Johnson. If she is too strange to be a main character, than a supporting role would be a fair compromise. Besides, making the main character into a person of importance within the movement makes sense, and therefore it would be historically accurate to have him work with Marsha.
It is unfortunate when Hollywood gets shortsighted in the name of conformity and aesthetics.