Why is the New Stonewall Movie Controversial?

By Meesh Montgomery on September 26, 2015

If you have seen Independence Day2012, or The Day After Tomorrow, then you have seen director Roland Emmerich’s work.

In his most recent movie Stonewall, the plot depicts Danny Winters, a fictional character, who flees to New York from his hometown. Not long after his arrival, he visits the Stonewall Inn where he becomes involved in the Stonewall Riots.

What makes the Stonewall movie controversial is the whitewashing of queer history and erasing trans women, drag queens, and lesbians from the uprising.


On June 28, 1969, a police raid at the Stonewall Inn — a popular gay club in New York City — turned into a series of demonstrations known as the Stonewall Riots. The start of the queer rights movement, the Stonewall Riots were led primarily by trans women of color and drag queens like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

However, in the trailer, people of color are almost absent. Yes, Marsha P. Johnson is portrayed in the film, but she is a supporting character. Perhaps the most prominent person of color within the movie is the character Ray, who falls in love with Danny.

What exactly is wrong with Danny Winters as the protagonist of the film? Well let’s start with this: he is a white cisgender gay male. Again, having Danny as a white person burries the significance of people of color within the queer community, especially during the Stonewall Riots.

Not only that, but there is this white savior complex with Danny. When there is a problem, Danny appears to save the day. For example, Danny is portrayed in the trailer as throwing the first brick when in fact it was truly a trans woman of color.

Next, he is a cisgender gay male. Cisgender means that his gender identity matches the sex that he was assigned at birth. Historically, and as I mentioned before, most of the people involved in the Stonewall uprising were not cisgender. That being said, why does Emmerich decide to use Danny as the protagonist?

According to his interview with Buzzfeed, “‘You have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people … I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny] is a very easy in. Danny’s very straight-acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him’” (www.buzzfeed.com).

What about all the other members of the queer community that Emmerich did not portray? Does he mean that no one will “feel” for them? Do they not deserve accurate representation? The interesting thing about the Stonewall Riots is that, much like the rest of history, those involved have intersecting identities. By having the protagonist be a trans woman of color, not only would he be historically accurate, but he would help with the visibility of marginalized groups.

Yes, this movie is not meant strictly for those of the queer community; it is for everyone. That being said, Emmerich should not misinform the audience about the events that happened. Danny is not the catalyst causing the reaction (the riots). Whether you choose to see the film or not, what makes the Stonewall movie controversial will live on.

Hopefully, in the future, there could possibly be a better portrayal of the events that lead to the queer rights movement.

I am currently an undergraduate student majoring in sociology. Eventually, I would like do work with trauma therapy and possibly open my own practice. I am an unpublished author, student leader, musician, and queer rights activist.

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