The Stonewall Riots And Their Underrepresented Heroines

Published August 11, 2015
Updated September 12, 2018

In a classic Hollywood move, producers seek to tell the story of minority struggle... without the minorities.


A still from the film Stonewall. Source: Vulture

It’s rare for a Hollywood film trailer to be so controversial that it leads people to boycott it, especially when that film aims to portray the struggle and resistance of a marginalized community. Such is the case with Stonewall, a film about the violent riots in 1960s New York City. Overwhelming outrage from the LGBTQ community has ensued since the trailer’s release, prompting an astonishing 22,000 signatures of people who promise to boycott the film, set to release September 25th.

Behind the widespread, negative feedback is a common source of anger: casting choice.

If one watched the trailer for Stonewall, one might be fooled into thinking that the Stonewall riots’ “unsung heroes” were brave, cisgender white males. In reality, trans women of color, butch lesbians, drag queens, homeless queer people, sex workers, gay, bi, and pansexual people put forth the grunt work to gain visibility at a time when it was effectively illegal to be gay in the United States.

The removal of these often “darker” heroes from a film isn’t a phenomenon specific to Stonewall; Hollywood has a long history of minority erasure in film. A study by USC’s Annenberg School of Communication analyzed over 700 films from 2007-2014, and the results make a strong case that, in general, roles for disenfranchised people in the entertainment industry haven’t improved over this period of time.

The statistics for erasure of queer characters are particularly bleak: after analyzing seven years of film and 4,610 speaking characters, there were only 19 gay characters represented, zero transgender characters were portrayed, and nearly 85 percent of the gay characters appearing on the big screen were white.

These statistics present a formidable problem in their own right, but especially so since queer women of color actually fronted the Stonewall riots – not the fictionalized white males that the film’s producers decided to prioritize.

Danika McClure
Danika is a musician from the northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a TV show.
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