When the trailer for Stonewall was released online earlier this week, not all the reactions on social media were positive. Many LGBT historians and activists are crying foul over the perception that Roland Emmerich’s fictionalized film white-washes the actual events and downplays the key role that Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera played in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Emmerich, for his part, has since posted a statement via Facebook emphasizing that when the film “finally comes to theaters, audiences will see it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there — including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Ray Castro.”
In an interesting turn of events, the criticism of Stonewall’s trailer has brought attention to a different film about Johnson and Rivera, as well as its need for funding. Happy Birthday, Marsha! tells the story of best friends, Marsha and Sylvia, in the hours leading up to the Riots. The two eventually meet up at the Stonewall Inn to celebrate Marsha’s birthday, and when the police arrive to raid the bar, Marsha and Sylvia are among the first to fight back.
Happy Birthday, Marsha! stars one of Tangerine’s breakout performers, Mya Taylor, in the role of Johnson and is currently in post-production. Filmmakers Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel — who both serve as writers, directors and producers of the project — are in need of donations to complete the movie and bring it to theaters.
The mission statement for the film reads as follows:
“We truly believe how we tell the stories of our heroes matters, so we are drawing upon our community to make this film because we have an opportunity to make a movie written, directed and produced by people living Sylvia & Marsha’s legacy through our own work. It’s been 45 years since the Stonewall rebellion yet the leading role that street queens, trans women of color and gender non-conforming people had during the riots hasn’t received the recognition it deserves. By making Happy Birthday, Marsha!, we are seeking to change that.”
The film is a sponsored project through WMM (Women Make Movies), which over the last five years has helped more than 120 films reach completion. Tax-deductible donations to Happy Birthday, Marsha! can be made through the movie’s website.