The trailer for Roland Emmerich‘s film about the 1969 Stonewall riots just debuted online on Tuesday, but it’s already sparked controversy among the LGBT community for its portrayal of the start of the gay-rights movement.
The preview presents a white man as the centerpiece of the movie, showing a character named Danny (Jeremy Irvine) arriving in New York City, where he meets the gay community on Christopher Street and is radicalized by his experiences with them at the Stonewall Inn.
Danny is shown throwing a brick as protests become increasingly violent. Jonathan Rhys Meyers‘ Trevor tells him, “That’s not the way.” And Danny replies, “It’s the only way.”
Two petitions and numerous angry tweets claim that the trailer has whitewashed what happened at the birthplace of the LGBT rights movement and object to the preview not devoting more attention to activists like transgender women Marsha P. Johnson, who briefly appears in the trailer, and Sylvia Rivera.
A MoveOn petition aimed at director Roland Emmerich, himself openly gay, urges those who sign it to boycott the movie “for erasing the contributions of of-color queer and gender non-comforming activists.”
“Hollywood has a long history of white-washing and crafting White Savior narratives, but this is one step too far,” the petition reads. “A historically accurate film about the Stonewall Riots would center the stories of queer and gender-noncomforming people of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Not relegate them to background characters in the service of a white cis-male fictional protagonist.” The petition had received 192 of 200 signatures by Thursday afternoon.
The Gay-Straight Alliance Network of school students also launched a petition calling for a boycott. As of Thursday afternoon, that petition had received nearly 9,500 signatures of its 10,000-signature goal.
The petition urges: “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.” The petition claims that the preview shows that the efforts of non-white transgender women and drag queens will not be depicted in the movie. Of the trailer, the petition says, “Majority of characters casted are white actors, cis men play the role of transwomyn, and folks who began the riots do not seem to be credited with such revolutionary acts.”
The film was written by openly gay writer Jon Robin Baitz and co-stars Ron Perlman and Joey King. Roadside Attractions is set to release the movie in theaters on Sept. 25 after its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival earlier that month.
Emmerich responded to the controversy in a Facebook post on Thursday, writing in part, “I understand that following the release of our trailer there have been initial concerns about how [the character of a young midwestern gay man]’s involvement is portrayed, but when this film — which is truly a labor of love for me — finally comes to theaters, audiences will see that it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there — including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Ray Castro — and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day.” Emmerich also notes that his film is a “fictionalized drama” of the Stonewall riots.
Baitz, meanwhile, posted on Facebook that he only saw the trailer when it debuted online and praised Emmerich for trying “to honor the heroes of that time.”
“I stand before people who are angered by a film they have yet to see, and ask that their open hearts allow that the film be judged on its own merits, and not by the demands of a marketing department, because marketing is based entirely in fear, whereas art is based in rage and hope and fire,” he wrote in part. “American film (sigh) somewhere in between — nervously shifting its weight between commerce and something greater, and stumbling all the time.”
Irvine added, “I saw the movie for the first time last week and can assure you all that it represents almost every race and section of society that was so fundamental to one of the most important civil rights movements in living history. Marsha P Johnson is a major part of the movie, and although first hand accounts of who threw the first brick in the riots vary wildly, it is a fictional black transvestite character played by the very talented @vlad_alexis who pulls out the first brick in the riot scenes. My character is adopted by a group of street kids whilst sleeping rough in New York. In my opinion, the story is driven by the leader of this gang played by @jonnybeauchamp who gives an extraordinary performance as a Puerto Rican transvestite struggling to survive on the streets. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character represents the Mattachine Society, who were at the time a mostly white and middle class gay rights group who stood against violence and radicalism. I felt incredibly nervous taking on this role knowing how important the subject matter is to so many people but Roland Emmerich is one of the most sensitive and heartfelt directors I’ve worked with and I hope that, as an ensemble, we have not only done such an important story justice but also made a good movie as well.”