By Jeff Walsh
A new film documents the era and events that led to riots at the Stonewall bar in New York City in 1969. "Stonewall," the movie based in part on Martin Duberman's book of the same name, tells a powerful story about drag queens who refused to be hassled by police any longer, and fought back. The riots are considered the birth of the modern day gay and lesbian rights movement.
The movie begins as Matty Dean, a wide-eyed cute country boy, gets off a bus in New York City to begin his life as a gay man. Soon after his arrival, he meets La Miranda, a drag queen played by Guillermo Diaz, and he ends up staying at her apartment that night, since he has no place to sleep. They eventually fall in love and are both at the Stonewall when the riots occur, the night after Judy Garland's funeral.
Another drag queen, Bostonia, spends the movie wanting to please her boyfriend, Vinnie, the bar's Mafia manager. She even considers getting a sex change just so he will spend time with her without fear.
The movie has been panned by some critics for being written and directed by people from England, for not being inclusive enough of women and for telling the story as a romance instead of confronting the drama of the riots themselves.
Another event that has cast a shadow on the movie is the AIDS-related death of Nigel Finch, the movie's director. Finch did get to see a rough edit of the film, but the movie's producer had to complete post-production.
Personally, this writer found the film inspirational and it showed me what had to be done then so I could live my life comfortably as an openly gay man now. But it also energized me to keep fighting for the right to openly love another man.
Two of the film's actors, Guillermo Diaz, who plays the lead drag queen, and Duane Boutte, who plays Bostonia, spoke with Oasis about how the movie drew from and inspired their own lives. Boutte is openly gay. Diaz did not want to comment on matters regarding his sexuality for this interview.
Both actors say they were cast very close to the time when shooting on the movie began. "The director talked a lot to us about period stuff, but as far as drag, they didn't even do a costume test or makeup test or anything," said Diaz. "My first day on the set, they just put me up in drag and started shooting. It wasn't spending time wondering what wig, what shade of eye shadow to wear or anything. I just hoped I wasn't all ugly when I got up there ... I was really afraid I was going to look pretty ugly in drag."
Boutte said he found out he would play Bostonia two weeks before filming. "I spent those two weeks looking at other films, sort of immersed myself in the world of gay oppression and also in the period stuff so I knew what the heck was going on in 1969," he says. "I didn't know much of Judy Garland, so I tried to develop a passion for her ... and I did. And most importantly, I had to figure out how to get Bostonia into my body, so I borrowed some heels from a cousin of mine and walked around in them."
Diaz read the Duberman book the movie is loosely based on, and also read "A Low Life in High Heels." "That helped me a lot," Diaz says. "It helped me with the era and stuff."
Both actors say they were not very familiar with Stonewall prior to making the movie. "I had heard about the Stonewall riots, but didn't know what it was, how it happened or why it happened," Diaz says. "I was only familiar with the name before this."
Boutte says the movie can be used as an important history lesson for gay youth to see how far we have come. "For me, I didn't know much about Stonewall before I got this role. I knew Stonewall had something to do with the gay community, but that was about it. I didn't know about the riots," he says. "But, it gives us something to be proud of ... how we stood together and stood up for ourselves.
"For me, the movie 'Stonewall' reminds me of the little things we still have with us," he says. "There's a moment where Matty Dean on the beach goes to kiss La Miranda and he looks over his shoulder first. And it's so true, that moment, looking over your shoulder."
Diaz, 25, didn't decide he wanted to be an actor until he was a sophomore in high school. He maintains residences in both new York City and Los Angeles. He has previously starred in movies such as "Party Girl," "Breaking the Silence" and "No Exit."
He says he isn't worried that playing gay roles will affect his career. "I don't really think about it. I've played other gay roles," he says. "I don't want to get typecast by Stonewall, but if it's a good part, I'll play anything."
Diaz said he was surprised by the conflicting stories he heard from Stonewall survivors at the New York City gay film festival. One person would speak, and as soon as the person finished, a bunch of other survivors started refuting the person was ever actually at Stonewall.
After the San Francisco film festival, Diaz is still confused by what one person meant when they told him they liked the movie, but the movie's poster was too homophobic.
The poster features a dominant picture of two men (Diaz being one of the men) hugging, while two other men are dancing in the background, and three drag queens are posing on top of the title "Stonewall."
'I feel comfortable with it'
Boutte said he is very pleased with how the movie turned out. "It's a lot better than I ever thought it was going to be," he says. "I'm thrilled about it, it's my first movie and I'm just really lucky that I got to be involved with it."
Although he says he's aware of some of the criticisms people have made regarding the film, Boutte says the people who approach him are only supportive. "The people I talk to, it's more important for them to let me know they enjoyed the movie," he says.
Touring with the Broadway musical "Carousel," Boutte took a night off from the stage show to attend the premiere of "Stonewall" at the Los Angeles gay film festival. He says he doesn't care if he doesn't get other acting roles because of his involvement with Stonewall. "It's something that will affect my career, I'm sure that it will," he says. "There might be some roles I don't get because of Stonewall, but it was a good experience."
He has been openly gay in theater for a long time, but until Stonewall, he had never been publicly out in the press. "Once I made this decision (to be out), I went through weeks of feeling like I made a mistake," he says. "And, finally, now... thank God I feel comfortable with it.
"When it comes down to it, in answering questions about Stonewall, how the heck am I supposed to give an honest interview about a gay subject and not use myself in the conversation?" he asks. "So, it seems the most logical and honest thing to do. And I think today, in 1996, it should be safe enough for me to do that."
Frightened of his sexuality
Boutte first accepted his sexuality when he went out of town to perform in a play for the summer. "I knew I was gay long before then," he says. "But when I was 16 and went out of town, it was the first time I had met openly gay men. It just so happens I met wonderful people who were openly gay men, and that gave me a lot of respect for myself. I saw them and recognized myself. So, I really discovered myself that summer, and by the time I came home, I knew who I was and I was happy about it."
His acceptance didn't lead him to come out to anyone right away. "I was a changed person, but it took me another two years before I was ready to share it with any friends," he says. "And, after sharing it with friends, I started sharing it with my family."
Despite accepting himself, he says his sexuality has presented problems due to his career. "As an actor, I've always been frightened of my sexuality, because I didn't know what it would do to my career. It's something I, for the most part, avoided," he says. "I used to write so much music as a kid and wanted to be a recording artist. I think one of the reasons I'm not a musician today is that I was afraid ... even in my music, I wanted to write songs about my boyfriend. For some reason, I kept acting and things have worked out.
"And one of the reasons I was more attracted to New York than Los Angeles is because I didn't want to end up on some TV show where I'd have to worry about everyone wanting to know about my personal life."
Boutte encourages young people to follow their own voice, and do things at their own speed when dealing with their sexuality.
"Listen most of all to yourself. If you're reading this, you're on the right track, because it is important to hear other people's stories," he says. "And try not to be afraid of how conservative your family might be. I know from me and my family, there has been a rift because of my sexuality. I don't have the best relationship with them because of my sexuality, but at least they know. I would not have come out when I was teen, I wasn't ready. Have respect for yourself. And just remember that everybody's course is completely different."