It’s not ladies’ night at “Stonewall”

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You know, despite the bad rap Stonewall got before anyone even saw it, I largely withheld my judgment. I figured since the finished product wasn’t that far away, I could wait until I actually watched the film before coming to any conclusions. Well now that thanks to a TIFF press screening I have, I can unequivocally say that Stonewall does one hell of a disservice to queer women, past and present. No, this isn’t a case of bad representation–it’s a matter of barely there representation, and we deserve better.

I know I’m only confirming what many of us already suspected. Back in early August, we wrote about how it looked like Stonewall would “leave queer women out of history.” At the time, a publicist told us “the central characters are a fictional group of homeless gay youths who turn to hustling, but the lesbian community is certainly a part of the film.”

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First of all, what community? Does two women kissing in a bar corner (the only two women apparently there) a community make? Or maybe the publicist meant Sam (played by out actress Joanne Vannicola), the only queer woman with lines in this film. Very few lines.

Secondly, what was that about a “fictional group of homeless gay youths”? Could not one of those fictional characters have been a queer woman? Perhaps maybe even two, if that’s not too greedy of me?

Okay, how about instead of venting I tell you about the one queer female character we do have? Sure, I can do that.

Sam, who shows up about an hour into the film, is a married, closeted lesbian. The police arrest her during a raid of the Stonewall Inn, presumably because they also “arrest the dykes because they’re wearing men’s clothes.” (By the way, it wasn’t a queer woman who said that.) And then when the police arrest her again during the Stonewall Riots, she yells, “Do something!” and that really gets the crowd going.

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That’s not just backstory­–that’s all I have!

And that is not okay. You don’t get to call your movie Stonewall and profit from the progress the community (which is an actual community, as in more than two people) has made possible, and not include queer women. You don’t get to do that.

Yet they did. Of course, they did it with the trans community too. All this hype around them recently releasing a clip with Marsha P. Johnson in it, only to have her appear sporadically throughout the film. Token representation like that is especially insulting in this case because it’s completely unnecessary. This is a movie about the Stonewall Riots! The trans community, people of color, queer women–they were all there!

" STONEWALL " Photo by Philippe Bosse

You’ve got to wonder who consulted on this movie and said, “Yup! Go ahead with the script as is. I don’t see this being problematic at all!” I’m sure several somebodies said something (oh god, I hope so), but obviously those voices didn’t prevail. Bad move. Bad move!

Stonewall had the perfect opportunity to be a unifying force of a film. No matter where you fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, someone like you was part of that Christopher Street community and was present at the Stonewall Riots. The true Stonewall history shows just how bad things were and how resilient of a community we are–all of us.

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Although it has an R rating, a lot of young kids are going to find a way to watch Stonewall. Most will not have read about the riots in their textbooks, nor will they have heard about it from their friends or–it’s very unlikely–the adults in their lives. A lot of these kids are going to watch Stonewall hoping, maybe even expecting, to see the communities they identify with richly represented onscreen, only to be short-changed. That’s not right.

I truly wanted to love, not just like, Stonewall. As the plaque designating the Stonewall Inn a landmark states, the Stonewall Riots were the “birth of the modern lesbian & gay rights liberation.” But the Stonewall Riots are bigger, much bigger, than a movie. That’s to mean if you’re going to go there, you better do it right. Director Roland Emmerich and co. didn’t, so they should prepare themselves for the continued and now justified backlash.

 

Stonewall hits theaters on September 25.

 

 

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