Five Films to Watch About Stonewall … Besides Stonewall

Reggie Myers

Ever since its trailer debuted, the recent Stonewall movie has been mired in controversy.

The trailer showed a cis gay white male throwing the first stone that sparked the riots. This led to accusations of whitewashing and downplaying the role of transgender people and queer people of colour such as Marsha P. Johnson in the real-life riots.

Some members of the LGBT community called for a boycott of the film (including Jinkx Monsoon, as above), while others defended the film – including writer Larry Kramer, who referred to the protesters as ‘crazies’.

I personally decided to hold off choosing a side until the film came out and the reviews came in, as director Ronald Emmerich promised all of the heroes and heroines of Stonewall would be given their dues.

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Now, with each review that comes out (you can read a hilarious rundown of clever lines about them here), one theme has become abundantly clear: Emmerich got Stonewall horribly wrong.

So in the spirit of being constructive, I thought I would give you five movies and documentaries you can watch and support in order to learn about the events and pioneers of Stonewall, because while a fictional re-telling might be fun, nothing beats the real thing.


The Stonewall Uprising

In 2010, Stonewall Uprising premiered on PBS. The 82-minute long documentary contains footage from the 50s and 60s, capturing the attitudes surrounding homosexuality and what led to fertile ground for a protest to arise.

It also contains interviews with multiple people who were there that night, including Martin Boyce and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, among others.

Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson

Frameline, known for producing queer cinema including a documentary on queer black women in blues music, creating this documentary on Marsha P. Johnson in 2012.

Johnson is the black trans woman who many believe may have started the riots. The documentary is a short 55 minutes, but no minute goes to waste.

marsha p johnson

It features Johnson’s own words as well as interviews with those who knew Johnson well, including activists Randy Wicker, Bob Kohler and Danny Garvin, former Cockettes performer Agosto Machado, and author Michael Musto.

You can watch the documentary in full below:

Before Stonewall

Everyone knows Stonewall is a large and important part of American history, especially for the LGBT community. What is discussed less often, and in much less detail among the general public, is why Stonewall was necessary in the first place.

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Before Stonewall takes a look at what it was like to be LGBT in the 1920s up until 1969.


Happy Birthday Marsha

When I spoke to someone about the boycotts regarding the films, he said that the film is fictional (despite the fact the Stonewall Riots really did happen) and if someone does not like the story being told then he or she could tell it themselves. This film aims to do just that.

stonewall movie fiction

Happy Birthday Marsha centers around Marsha P. Johnson and her friend/fellow activist Sylvia Rivera in the hours leading up to the Stonewall Uprising.

The drama is currently in need of post-production and taking donations. You can read more about it here.


Another major project you should consider supporting is Major!: a documentary about Miss Major, another Stonewall veteran.

What makes this documentary special is that filmmakers are working with Miss Major, the film’s other participants and a trans POC Community Advisory Board to make sure the story is told as it should and the subjects keep their humanity throughout their portrayal.

Although they had a successful Kickstarter, the filmmakers are still raising money for the film. You can learn more about the documentary here.

About Reggie Myers

Reggie Myers is a writer and communications professional living in Philadelphia, Pa., where he graduated from Temple University. Music, television, film, books, video games, politics, and human sexuality are just a few of the many things that make him tick. When he's not working behind a computer screen, you can find him looking for new adventures, practicing photography, scheming ways to get to the front row of a concert, or scouring the corners of the internet for new music to put his friends on to. @reggieakil