Friday, August 7, 2015

Backlash against "Stonewall"

The trailer for "Stonewall" made me feel disgusting and depressed. While I reserve judgment on the actual feature, the 2 minute clip I saw that is supposed to highlight the movie gave me that sinking feeling of 'here we go again.' 

Gay people of color already got erased from AIDS movies, plays, tv. And when we do appear -a la Angels in America- we are literally magical servants and sassy queens with no character arc. I mean - fuck- how hard is it to give a brother a character arc? Here: black sister wants a bike and it has some childhood "Rosebud" meaning...and by the end...she gets the bike (or not). Was that so fucking hard to do, Hollywood? And no, she isn't magical and she isn't a nurse pushing someone in a stroller or wheelchair. She just has a basic human need embodied in a physical object. 

"Akeelah and the Bee" was held back in development for so long because movie executives wouldn't greenlight it unless they changed the teacher to a white woman. Why? Well cause I guess people can't look at a lil' black girl learning how to spell a goddamn word without wondering 'is this some sort of radical black agenda?" No, she's just learning how to spell. She isn't a maid, she doesn't have special powers, she's a human being who isn't here to be a servant to white privilege. And that last point is what made it radical and problematic. 

When people of color are unfettered by obeisance to white patriarchy there is a problem. When POC don't act in deference default mode it becomes alarming both on and off screen. Whether it be toward a cop in a traffic stop or the actual history of radical movements like Stonewall, an inability to filter oneself through a white lens leads to violence, death, or getting erased. Either way it's an excising of humanity.

My experience is that many well-intentioned liberal gays in theatre and Hollywood are white upper-middle class ppl who almost exclusively hang out with their own kind. And you know what: that's your choice. But how can you bring an honest lens to complex history and the richness of characters when you exist in a world that -by its intrinsic design- reduces the existence of people of color in the conversation? That's the question I had as I watched this trailer and many other things. Not saying i'm boycotting but when do we get some aesthetic relief from this very narrow group defining what it means 'to be.'

The storytelling choice of writing in a white male twink as the lens for the most important shift in the gay rights movement that was triggered by trans people and people of color comes across as a woefully ignorant of the historical context of people of color being erased in American movies. And it's not helped that director Roland Emmerich's trailer looks like a sepia-toned goop of nostalgia posing as Oscar historical (a la The Patriot). I reserve final judgment, but I am aware of the macro-level of context (including who made it, and other movies in this genre) that this film exists within. 

Some of my friends have already metaphorically told the creators of this movie to 'fuck off' while others are organizing boycotts. I find it depressing that the attempt to dramatize a galvanizing moment in history can cause so much rancor and bile from people who are chronically erased from public awareness. The backlash is sad, dismal, and understandable. 

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