‘Drunk History’ Does Stonewall History Better Than Roland Emmerich
The latest episode of Drunk History arrives just in time for October’s LGBTQ history month with an episode about the Stonewall Riots, and it’s a way more accurate telling than Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall.
Remember that movie? The one where Emmerich whitewashed history by replacing trans people of color with a white cisgender dude? Stonewall perpetuated stereotypes of queer people, turned the historical event into a chintzy melodrama, and twisted history to tell a white savior narrative. Luckily Drunk History is here to correct those mistakes, putting the transgender women who began the Stonewall Riots front and center and casting trans actresses in the roles.
In one of the stories from the new episode, which aired Tuesday, comedian Crissle West recounts the events of June 28, 1969, a major tipping point for LGBTQ rights. The episode tells the story of Marsha P. Johnson, the trans pioneer who started the riots when police raided the Stonewall Inn, one of New York City’s few gay bars at the time. Johnson, played by Transparent actress Alexandra Grey, famously threw a shot glass at the bar mirror and shouted “I got my civil rights.” Grey recreates it with a touch of humor in the episode, alongside Trace Lysette (Transparent) who portrays Sylvia Rivera, the Venezuelan-Puerto Rican trans woman also credited with being one of the first to incite the riots and fight back against the police. In just a short six minute segment, Comedy Central achieves more than the entirety of Emmerich’s movie.
Rivera was nowhere to be seen in Emmerich’s film, and while he did include Johnson, the character (played by a cisgender actor) was written as a jokey, one-dimensional stereotype. Instead of Johnson, Emmerich showed a completely fictional white male character as the one who threw the first brick. The director later defended the film, claiming that Stonewall was a “white event,” but don’t even get me started on that hunk of garbage.
Beyond telling trans stories with trans actors, the Comedy Central episode also has a refreshing sense of humor, and one that doesn’t feel insensitive. In traditional Drunk History fashion Lysette and Grey reenact the story through West’s tipsy descriptions. And sure it’s over-the-top, but it has just the right amount of goofy comedy and respect for the women. It’s a nice reminder that not all LGBTQ stories have to be told with a somber, weepy narrative. For Lysette, the humor of the episode was also a way to teach more people about LGBTQ history. The actress told Out magazine, “If comedy is what lures people to watch a show about the birth of the Gay Liberation Movement—if comedy is the in, the thing that cracks the door open—then so be it.”
So Drunk History isn’t going to teach you everything, of course; this is certainly no thorough history lesson, and there were plenty more events besides Stonewall that sparked queer and trans liberation. But the episode is a clever way to pay tribute to LGBTQ History Month, and if schools decided to show this in classrooms, I wouldn’t complain. It’s also a great reminder to watch Grey and Lysette’s work in Transparent Season 3 if you haven’t yet. Watch the Stonewall clip from Drunk History below.