Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall hit theaters on Friday—and landed with a thud. Despite costing $17 million, the film took in barely $112,000 over its entire opening weekend.
Of course, its release was preceded by a firestorm of protest over the marginalization of trans people and people of color in favor of a cute white male protagonist who literally throws the first brick at the riots.
But Stonewall doesn’t just whitewash history—it twisted it.
Alongside the hustlers and queens of late-’60s Greenwich Village, the film introduces us to the more hesitant homophile movement, gay activists who try to change society’s treatment of homosexuals through meetings, civil demonstrations and legal action.
Stonewall portrays Frank Kameny and the suit-wearing members of Mattachine Society as naive and useless—handing out leaflets as the world burns.
Besides the police and mafia, they are the enemy of the movie’s young queer protagonists.
In one scene, Kameny (Arthur Holden) urges followers to “resist the radicalism that I see starting to take hold.”
Worse, one of them—Johnathan Rhys-Meyers’ Trevor—is a sleazebag who gets cornfed Danny (Jeremy Irvine) to move in with him, then promptly picks up another trick.
While the LGBT community celebrates Stonewall as the dawn of the movement, the work of people like Kameny, Harry Hay, Del Martin, Rudi Gernreich and Barbara Gittings was integral to our cause. (Stonewall, sadly, practically ignores lesbians altogether.)
These “squares” had the resources, connections, experience and funding essential to propel the movement forward.
Kameny filed the first civil-rights suit based on sexual orientation in a U.S. court, and worked tireless to end sodomy laws and the exclusion of gays from the military. (He himself was fired from NASA after his sexuality was discovered.)
Kameny and Gittings produced the first public demonstration for LGBT rights in 1965, four years before Stonewall. (The 50th anniversary of the Annual Reminders, as the protest was called, was just celebrated in Philadelphia this summer.)
These gay pioneers were there long before the first brick was thrown—doing the hard, slow and thankless work of change.
They may have not been radicals by today’s standards, but we are in their debt. Any movie about the birth of the LGBT movement should praise, not scorn, them.