Review: Stonewall Outloud

I love gay history, so I jumped at the chance to attend a screening of the documentary short Stonewall Out Loud at the Stonewall last week.  It initially premiered on June 5 of this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the riots and is currently streaming on YouTube.  After viewing the film by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato – the acclaimed directors of Inside Deepthroat and Party Monster, among others—I’m happy to report that my enthusiasm was rewarded. 

As Bailey told the crowd at the screening, there are very few photographs from the Stonewall riots, so he and Barbato had to get creative.  Their brilliant conceit was to bring audio recordings of the participants to life by having various LGBT celebrities “play” the storytellers: i.e. lip sync.  It seemed a little odd at first, seeing the likes of Lance Bass, Adam Rippon, and Isis King “speaking” for the participants, but I quickly got used to it.  Considering lip syncing’s long association with drag, the technique is actually all too appropriate; in fact, Drag Race’s Jinkx Monsoon “portrays” the legendary Sylvia Rivera.  The film also includes conversations between the actors and the still living “voices”—like Fredd E. “Tree” Sequoia, who still bartends at Stonewall today—and reflections from both generations on the significance of these events in shaping our community’s ongoing history.    There are also cinematic close-ups of smashing bottles, flashing lights, and other images evoking the riots and the context surrounding them, as well as incendiary footage of Rivera lashing out at a hostile crowd at Pride 1973.  Watching this documentary in the spot where it all happened was a truly moving experience.

“Tree” Sequoia with Adam Rippon

Afterwards, legendary journalist Michael Musto conducted a Q&A with Sequoia and Bailey before opening up the floor to audience questions.  One self-identified “zennial” (cross between a millennial and generation Z) professed that they talk about Stonewall “all the time” with their circle of friends and that it’s quite meaningful, “especially for the trans community”—this comment brought a chorus of snaps from their friends in the crowd.  With Stonewall Outloud, those young people and generations to come have an invaluable new testament.

From Stonewall to Strange

A little more than one year ago, the movie Stonewall was released (I’d write came out, but that’s too easy). Supposedly about the riots that led to the Gay Rights Movement, it replaced the historic Black and Latinx rioters with the blandest cis white guy imaginable to tell a fictional coming-of-age story. The director, Roland Emmerich, partially justified this to Buzzfeed by saying: “As a director you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and gay.” Apparently, there’s a shortage of white protagonists upon whom Emmerich can project himself. The real rioters of Stonewall were trans women of color, drag queens, lesbians, and other representatives of the gay community that are largely ignored by most media, the marginalized of the marginalized.

Image result for stonewall movie 2015

This guy was not present at Stonewall.

Image result for marsha p johnson village voice

Marsha P. Johnson was, and deserves a better movie. (Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

Last month, the newest Marvel movie opened. Doctor Strange has the benefit of not depicting historical events, but it still contains a white actor in a role that is historically Asian. Even worse, the story is steeped in the “Shangri-La” myth, the idea of an “exotic” East that leads white people to higher levels of consciousness (while presenting a homogenous and watered-down view of Asian culture). These are throwbacks to Victorian ideas that anything as “mysterious” as Asia must also be “magical.” It’s the condescending, sanctimonious cousin to the “yellow peril” storylines that dominated Golden Age comics, and from which the original designs of the Ancient One were derived.

Image result for doctor strange ancient one

Image result for doctor strange ancient one comics

Is it better or worse that a racist stereotype is played by a white woman? The question itself distracts from the fact that the story deals in racist stereotypes in the first place. Doctor Strange’s origin dilutes the importance of the culture presented; it becomes less about the people with mystical powers and more about the white person who reacts to them. One of the writers of Doctor Strange admitted that one of the reasons they made this change was out of consideration for the Chinese movie market, because they cannot acknowledge the existence of Tibet. Instead of changing the setting, or the main character’s race, or any other aspect of the story that might result in less outrage, they made the Ancient One white. (He later clarified that this statement did not represent Marvel, but the damage had been done.)

Finally, Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson is set to open March 31, 2017. There were reports that video effects were going to be used to give the GITS cast more “Asian” features — the CGI equivalent of slapping on a set of buck teeth and glasses. Though this was abandoned, the movie was not. This regressive treatment of people is shameful and the gay community should be among those expressing the righteous indignation that is the only proper response.

Image result for scarlett johansson ghost in the shell

Any defense of such marginalization to maintain a status quo becomes increasingly indefensible. It is obvious how offensive it is, and the only reason more people aren’t offended by it is because we’re all so used to it.

Gay icon Alan Turing was given a biopic (also starring Benedict Cumberbatch) last January that barely hinted at his homosexuality. There is also a history of straight actors playing gay roles and cis men playing trans roles. Thankfully, Stonewall did not do well at the box office. Unfortunately, Doctor Strange has so far grossed more than $600 million and is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. As much as I would like Ghost in the Shell not to do well, frankly, I have a sinking feeling it will be considered a success by those who made it.

This affects us, too, because so much of the gay community is also Asian. According to one study, ethnic minorities actually make up a majority of gay people. We are represented not just by a literal rainbow, but a physical one. This intersectionality means we should be the first to stand up for minority rights and representation. The stereotype of a weak, effeminate gay man has been replaced with an affluent, straight-acting, cis white man and is just as harmful. Worse, racism is well documented among us. The gay community transcends race, or at least it should; there are gay people of every creed and culture, class and race. We should be the first to demand more representation of everyone.