May 26, 2014

Setting the Record Queer: Stonewall - Those Who Forget History Are Doomed to Repeat the Same Myths About it

I can recall back when I was a young teenager having breakfast one morning when my mom, while flipping through the newspaper said, "I see that Independence Day is rated PG-13".

"Uh uh," I replied, not really paying attention. I had seen trailers galore up until that point and my snobbish teenage self (go figure) had decided that the movie had looked boring and derivative.

"Do you want to see it?" my mom asked.

"No," I answered, although at this point my curiosity was peaked a little. Why would my mom of all people want to see what was essentially a sci-fi shoot-em-up? Well, a shoot-em-up where aliens shoot up major cities with flaming walls of flame.

She shrugged, and said, "Well, I thought it might be educational".

The advertising at the time for Independence Day had been so ubiquitous with giant alien space craft blowing up human civilization that it took took me a moment to realize what was going on here.

"Um.... mom," I replied, "you should know that the movie Independence Day isn't actually about the American Revolution..."

Skip ahead 18 years and the openly gay director of Independence Day Roland Emmerich, is now promising to make a movie about an actual historical event. Specifically the Stonewall Riots that launched the LGBTQ rights movement.

When it comes to getting the history of the Stonewall Riots "correct" I am leary of Emmerich for reasons that have nothing to do with his reputation as a purveyor of derivative action flicks, but because of Emmerichs' involvement in the film Anonymous which relays the story of Shakespeare but is set in an alternative universe where the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship happens to be true. For those unfamiliar with the theory, it posits that William Shakespeare was not the "real" author of the plays, sonnets, and poems now attributed to him. Long story short, it's a conspiracy theory that has little basis in actual historical facts.

What might be the Osfordian Theory's worst sin though, is the way it erases (possibly unintentionally) some of the best evidence that William Shakespeare experienced same sex desire. By this I mean the conspiracy theory here ultimately sets out to explain why Shakespeare dedicated his romantic sonnets to a man by eliminating the possibility that the dedication was romantically inclined. As such the Oxford Theory posits that the dedications are evidence for the conspiracy, rather then the icky possibility that one the finest English writers ever (or so English scholars say, I could barely understand him personally) had same sex desires.

What I find troubling at this point in the production (which is set to begin filming this summer) is that thus far it appears to focus on white, gay characters. The IMDB page for the movie lists Jeremy Irvine, Calab Landry Jones, and Karl Glusman as those who have been cast thus far. In addition, the plot is described as:
A young man's political awakening and coming of age during the days and weeks leading up to the Stonewall Riots.
Note that it says "man". Not "trans man". Not a "drag queen". Just "man". Also is it just me or does it sound like this is the plot of the 1995 Stonewall film directed by Nigel Finch? I realize that being about the same event could easily lead to similar plots on their own, but Emmerich sounds like even his historical epic is going to be a rip-off.

Whatever issue Emmerich has with being derivative, historically speaking this is a problem because it means that the next Stonewall Riot flick is going to be regurgitating the erasure of transgender/transsexual and gender non-conforming people of color from queer history. In addition, there is the history of transgender rights activists, such as Sylvia Riveria and Martha P. Johnson, also being erased from the Stonewall Narrative.

Even the films' Facebook page gets in on the act by stating:
"Stonewall" will tell the story of the men and women of the modern Gay Rights movement and the establishment where it all took place: The Stonewall Inn.

And in casting calls for extras for the movie, the only word that shows up is "gay". Not LGBT, not Queer, gays only. Bisexual, lesbian, and Transgender, Transsexual, and gender non-conforming folks need not apply.

Normally, I wouldn't make a big deal out of mere word choice, but the erasure of transgender, transsexual, and gender non-conforming folks in addition to people of color specifically from the Stonewall Narrative has gone on for too long and is simply too extensive to be allowed to pass without comment.

In any case, one can only hope that Emmerichs' Stonewall has more in common with the actual riots than his movie about Will Smith saving the world from aliens had with the American Revolution. Too bad the prospect of that actually happening looks about as good as the world ending in 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson may have been present at the night of the Stonewall riots, but they were not in Stonewall on that fateful night. According to reports, Sylvia was sleeping off a heroin addiction in Washington Square Park, while Marsha, seeing the bar fight that was taking place between gays, lesbians and the NYPD, ran off to find her.

    So at best MP & SR will have a minor role, if it all, in this narrative.

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