“Stonewall,” a film by Roland Emmerich, was released on Sept. 25 and immediately flopped in theaters. The film for Emmerich was a “little movie” for which he wanted to spend “about $12 to $14 million.” Emmerich described his “coming-of-age” drama, fictional yet based on the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969, as “about these crazy kids in New York, and a country bumpkin who gets into their gang, and at the end they start this riot and change the world.” The “country bumpkin” is a white, gay teenager who comes out to his parents, is kicked out of his home and leaves his small Indiana town for New York City. In the film, the white teen is the one to throw the first brick and to agitate others to begin fighting in the streets.
At best, this is simply a coming-of-age drama. But at worst, the film is another tool in the capitalist commodification of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and queer people and the struggle for LGBTQ liberation. The Stonewall Rebellions were the result of the fearlessness and radicalism of working-class, queer and trans* people of color. Many who threw the first punches, incited the first fight-backs, and screamed “No more!” were trans* people of color — particularly trans women of color, among them Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. In a Huffpost Live video interview, Miss Major expressed, “They’ve been doing this to us for years. They’re trying to eradicate us as a people and claim that we really do not exist. I guess we are a figment of our own imagination.” (Aug. 25)
By making the protagonist of “Stonewall” a white man, the film sought to make invisible a community that remains vocal about stopping the police violence, murders and brutalization of trans women and people of color. The erasure of the true s/heroes behind the Stonewall Rebellion serves as a tool in the continued erasure of the LGBTQ struggle for liberation. Those on the frontlines today — if they are not white; if they belong to an organized struggle; if they dare present a counternarrative to bourgeois propaganda — are attacked and ignored.
Hollywood was presented with an opportunity to unite the working class by telling a true story about why queer and trans* revolutionaries fought back. But instead — to no surprise — they acted on their capitalist orientation and produced a film that further divided working and oppressed people by repressing history. When working-class people and oppressed peoples do not understand our revolutionary history and traditions, we are more susceptible to carrying out the agendas of the ruling class and fighting each other when we should be fighting together.
In August, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network launched an online petition calling for a boycott of the film. GSA Network urged everyone, “Do not throw money at the capitalistic industry that fails to recognize true s/heros. Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch Stonewall.” (unite.gsanetwork.org) The petition has gathered more than 24,000 signatures in a clear showing that the LGBTQ community refuses to be satisfied with gross misrepresentation and whitewashing of our radical history.
“Pride,” released in 2014, has a much more political approach to LGBTQ history. The film is based on the true story of gays and lesbians who organized in solidarity with striking mine workers in Wales in 1984. The film captures the struggle to build solidarity between the LGBTQ movement and the labor movement at a time when both groups were led to believe that they were each other’s enemy. Organizers came together to form the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.
LGBTQ people and mineworkers were used as puppets, pitted against each other as the ruling class exploited the struggles of their communities. Mineworkers were seen as poor and invaluable by many in the LGBTQ community, and many mineworkers acted on their bigotry by harming and harassing LGBTQ people. The ways LGBTQ people and miners saw each other were crafted by both the media and bourgeois propaganda. These were the perfect conditions for Margaret Thatcher, the state and the ruling class to proceed with their agenda to privatize the mines. But revolutionaries on both sides recognized that they would be stronger together.
Contrary to “Stonewall,” which made one white teen a hero, “Pride” raised the power of working class unity and what is possible when working and oppressed people fight together against the true enemy: the capitalist ruling class.
There is a growing discomfort with the ruling class’s violence toward the LGBTQ community in all its forms. Queer and trans* people are building a grassroots movement for Black lives, against racism and capitalism, for housing, employment, and against gentrification, for workers’ rights and climate justice, and for collective liberation. From the Stonewall Rebellion to Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, queers want a revolution — not bourgeois propaganda to keep the masses misinformed about what could be possible when we throw our punches together.