The Big Question Behind 'Stonewall' Backlash: Who Threw The First Brick? In reality, no one knows who threw the brick that started the riots; but in a new film, it's a white teenager from Indiana. One activist says that "whitewashes" the history of Stonewall.
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The Big Question Behind 'Stonewall' Backlash: Who Threw The First Brick?

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The Big Question Behind 'Stonewall' Backlash: Who Threw The First Brick?

The Big Question Behind 'Stonewall' Backlash: Who Threw The First Brick?

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Almost 50 years ago, police stormed a gay bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn. The clash between police and patrons helped spark today's modern Gay Rights Movement. Now those riots are the subject of a controversial new movie that opens tomorrow. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: At Stonewall, the drinks were watered down and the bar often raided in 1969, like in this scene from the new movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STONEWALL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As policeman) Get in a line up against the walls.

JONNY BEAUCHAMP: (As Ray) I know y'all pigs get paid off every time you raid this place. I probably paid for all your kids' Christmas presents.

JEREMY IRVINE: (As Danny) Oh, Jesus Christ.

WANG: No one knows why so many bar patrons and onlookers fought back the first night of the riots. Many had lived through years of raids and beatings on the street before they flung loose change and glass bottles at police outside the burning Stonewall Inn.

The new movie follows a fictional rioter named Danny. The white high school student from Indiana runs away to New York City after his friends find out that he's gay and his father kicks him out of the house.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STONEWALL")

BEAUCHAMP: (As Ray) Yo everybody, this is Danny. Danny, welcome to New York.

WANG: Danny is taken in by a crew of homeless youth. Many of them are transgender people of color. They show him how to survive in the streets of New York, and eventually, after a love triangle entangles with the mob, they're all front and center in the riots outside Stonewall.

Roland Emmerich, the filmmaker behind "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow" directed the movie.

ROLAND EMMERICH: We, like, kind of did this movie mainly to unify and to educate young gays, in general, that there was a event where it was not, like, one group who led this riot - it was, like, everybody.

WANG: But Emmerich says he wanted a white male protagonist to serve as a relatable surrogate for the audience. That character, Danny, also throws the brick that starts the Stonewall riots.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STONEWALL")

JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS: (As Trevor) That's not the way, Danny.

IRVINE: (As Danny) It's the only way.

EMMERICH: We knew this didn't happen. This is a fictional story. And I think it made very much sense for this story, for me.

WANG: But not for Pat Cordova-Goff, an organizer for transgender youth with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. After she saw the trailer last month, Cordova-Goff started an online petition calling for the boycott of the new "Stonewall" movie, which she says whitewashes the history of the riots. So far, she's collected more than 24,000 signatures.

PAT CORDOVA-GOFF: Whoever is portrayed to throw the first brick will affect someone's perception of the entire movement, you know? It's a statement saying, who are we going to, you know, respect and who are we going to portray as the power minds behind this movement?

WANG: Tim Stewart-Winter, who studies the history of gay movements at Rutgers University, says no one know who started the Stonewall riots. Still, he says, criticism of the new film's interpretation is rooted in divisions within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

TIM STEWART-WINTER: White, middle-class people have been the face of gay visibility in Hollywood, in politics for so long that I think people rightly look to Stonewall and say, this is something that was not a project of middle-class, white activists.

WANG: Stewart-Winter says a broad coalition of LGBT activists ultimately formed the Gay Liberation Movement that emerged from Stonewall. But he adds that perhaps the most important driving force against the police were young street kids and older, self-described drag queens, like Stonewall veteran Martin Boyce. Boyce served as a consultant for the new movie. And despite the criticism, he says he's proud to be a part of it and the legacy of Stonewall.

MARTIN BOYCE: That Stonewall came out of these queens whose lives would have been just bulldozed by history, you know, all of the sudden made a difference. Many of them died thinking they did nothing in their lives, but look what they did do.

WANG: Something we're still talking about almost half a century later. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.

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