Last Sunday, Viola Davis became the first African-American woman ever to win Best Actress in a Drama Series. The How to Get Away with Murder actress took her time to pay tribute to Harriet Tubman, along with dropping some serious truth on the Hollywood Elites and audiences watching at home. Davis called out the lack of representation for people of color in television, as well as, in the greater totality of the film industry. During her passionate and empowering speech, Davis said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Her speech has sparked discussions about the lack of opportunity for marginalized identities and the greater public is finally starting to take notice of the identity disconnect plaguing our screens. Frankly, I can’t believe it took this long for major news publications to take notice.
Davis’ speech is reflective of a bigger issue facing mainstream media today. Simply put, we are not receiving accurate representations of diverse identities, which creates a warped view of who should hold the leading roles.
Her speech added more fuel to my fire on my decision to boycott the upcoming Stonewall movie, coming out this Friday. Though I have not seen the film yet (nor do I intend to), I find from what I have seen and read thus far to be incredibly problematic.
The first trailer for the film about the 1969 Stonewall Riots seemingly undermines the history and true players who should be credited for launching the modern movement for LGBTQ+ rights. The film presents a fictionalized character: a white, cisgender – meaning his sexual anatomy and his gender identity coincide – man named Danny, played by War Horse star Jeremy Irvine, as the movie’s main protagonist. Almost immediately after the trailer dropped, folks across the Queer spectrum, as well as allies and activists alike, began taking issue with the film and the deceptive “whitewashing” of Queer Culture and History.
So let’s get some things “straight.” The Stonewall Riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community living in New York City. On June 28th of 1969, a police raid took place in the early morning hours at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village, a neighborhood of Manhattan. People were thrown to the ground, beaten and ridiculed for just simply being at the Inn, a common place for anyone outside of herteonormativity. The community had had enough of the discrimination, harassment and oppression and decided to rebel. These riots are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.
Most of the LBGTQ+ shakers on the front lines of the real Stonewall Riots were people of color, Trans* folks and lesbians — i.e., not cisgender, white, gay men. But in the trailer, however, it shows Danny as the person who throws the first brick which incites the riots. In actuality, Trans* activist Sylvia Rivera has been credited as one of the first to throw a bottle. Rivera then went on to lead the Riots, along with Marsha P. Johnson. To my knowledge, these two trans* women of color are not even represented in the film, except as possible side characters. And that is simply not okay.
My issue with the film is the obvious denial of these identities and of important historical figures. I am afraid that today’s youth will see this film, take it as fact, and will never know the truth about where the on-going battle for Queer Justice sparked it’s flame. This film is yet another example of how CIS-temtic identity oppression is in today’s society.
I know this piece is lacking jokes – other than the obvious pun above – and that’s typically why you all read my pieces. But I do have a joke for you. Ready? Whitewashing history by portraying an incorrect account of what actually happened during the Stonewall Riots and altering perceptions about the reality of oppression. There you go. That’s the joke.
I am urging you to not pay money to view this film. By not buying into this falsity, we will send a message to directors, producers, writers and anyone who is vital to the creation of films. Just like Viola Davis, we have to stand up and speak about our frustrations of the lack of opportunities.
Collegian Columnist Kendall McElhaney feels very passionately about this subject. Clearly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kendallaftrdark.