Skip the white-washed history and get stuck into these powerful portrayals of LGBT crusaders
Since Stonewall reviews started rolling in, critics haven’t shied away from sticking the film on a spit and roasting it. There has been riotous controversy about whether casting two cis white men as its leads was the right decision for a film that is supposed to reflect historic events, historic events that were kicked off by trans POC. The reasoning behind the white-washing decision was that the director Roland Emmerich thought it would put straight cinema audiences off by having two gay leads. In a gay film. So for those not wanting to subject themselves to skewed history, here’s five better films about LGBT champions that are far more worth your time.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARSHA
Although it’s only in post-production, Happy Birthday Marsha is looking to be the Stonewall that wasn’t. It vows to represent the riots accurately and with the respect they deserve. The film profiles legendary transgender activist Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson in the hours leading up to the Stonewall riots. The story begins with Marsha’s birthday party, where she dreams of performing at a club. None of her friends show up initially; it’s only when they meet up later at the Stonewall Inn that history is made. When police come to raid the bar they are the first to make a stand against the unnecessary police action.
FLOATING SKYSCRAPERS (2013)
As one of Poland’s first films to really explore same-sex relationships, Floating Skyscrapers became the film synonymous with writer and director Tomasz Wasilewski’s career. The story follows Cuba, an aspirational swimmer who quickly falls in love with another man, Michał, and instantly faces disapproval from his traditional mother and his girlfriend, who desperately tries to hold onto him and their relationship. The film was originally premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013 and was met with mixed reviews as same-sex relationships has always been a big taboo in Poland.
PARIS IS BURNING (1990)
Made by NYU student Jennie Livingston, the documentary focuses on the African-American, gay, Latino and transgender community involved in the “ball culture” of New York City in the 1980s. The film follows several influential members of the drag ball scene including Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey and Willi Ninja, using them to structure the film through monologues and clips of the scene. Having spent seven years making it, Livingston did face criticism accusing her of fetishizing trans people of colour in the US, however most believe the documentary to be an invaluable look into the ending of the “Golden Age” of NYC drag balls.
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (2012)
This film documents the early struggles of the AIDS epidemic in the US and how organizations like ACT UP and TAG campaigned for the US government to develop effective AIDS/HIV medication. Directed by journalist David France, the film was dedicated to his partner Doug Gould who died of AIDS in 1992 and uses over 700 hours of archived clips which include news coverage on demonstrations, meetings and conferences as well as interviews with those involved.
TONGUES UNTIED (1989)
This semi-documentary film follows the gay black men of America in 1989 as they faced not only racial, but homophobic, discrimination. The documentary was released as part of a series looking into the lives of black lesbians and gay people in the 80s/90s and takes the conventional interview/talking head sequences from experts and personal stories mixing them with archive footage of events. The film often talks about “the silence”, which basically refers to the forced silence of black gay men, who at the time couldn’t express themselves because of the prejudice. In the words of the director Marlon Riggs, he wanted to “...shatter the nation's brutalizing silence on matters of sexual and racial difference.”