Ian McKellen: It would be a pity if the Stonewall film got the story wrong
Sir Ian McKellen has said he thinks it would be “a pity” if they got the depictions of the Stonewall riots wrong in a film about the subject.
Speaking to PinkNews at a news conference at Manchester Pride, of which he was the grand marshall, he said he thought it was typical of Hollywood to put “cute” faces at the centre of stories such as Stonewall.
The film has been accused of “whitewashing” the 1969 Stonewall Riots – gay director Roland Emmerich has come under fire amid claims he has ignored the real-life drag queens and trans women of colour who are credited with starting the historic events.
Sir Ian said: “I haven’t seen it – but it would a pity if they got it wrong. It’s a fabulous story on its own and you don’t have to start making it cute and sweet.”
He recalled a story of Martin Sherman, the playwright of ‘Bent’ fame, who was at the riots, but struggled to find a cab who would take his black friend.
“The thing he remembers about that is that he couldn’t get his black friend a cab. It’s how the world has changed in every direction,” he said.
Sir Ian went on: “So it’s a pity if they’ve got it wrong – I would like to know really what it was like – there were drag queens – it was a very disreputable place. They were probably all drunk or high.
“The Hollywood tendency is always to put a cute couple of faces in the centre of a story – it’s a pity.”
On Muslim Drag Queens, the programme he narrated, which sparked mixed reactions this week, Sir Ian said: “A million people saw it which is a high figure – which of course will be doubled on catch up. I got something on a Facebook saying that it was an anti-Muslim programme I said ‘don’t talk to me about that, I’m an atheist – talk to the three boys who are practicing Muslims’.
He went on: “Walking past the Quakers – their banner outside says ‘Manchester Quakers welcome you to Manchester Pride’ – they’ve been pro-gay for as long as I’ve known – so, to say religion is anti-gay is not true – there are members of churches, synagogues and mosques that don’t agree with that, and they should be supported.
“Nothing but good will come out of that programme – it stirs up people’s emotions but in both directions.”
He added: “Maybe more people watched Muslim Drag Queens than have seen an ISIS execution.”
On trans issues, Sir Ian said “at last” Stonewall, an organisation of which he was a co-founder, is beginning to take on such issues.
When asked by a reporter whether he thought trans was a “buzzword”, the Lord of the Rings star said: “If you are trans, it’s you’re life – it’s not just a passing fashion… What’s good is that people are taking trans people seriously, and trying to understand their problems and not get in the way.”
He continued: “I go to schools now, and many secondary schools in this country have a transgender kid going through the process. They are heroes to the school – everybody knows about them.
“I feel I’m as ignorant as in the past people were about gay problems… I wouldn’t say it was just a passing fancy – we’re taking it on board now – trying to understand it.”
PinkNews asked the Vicious star whether he thinks kids’ programmes such as Peppa Pig should feature same-sex couples.
He joked: “I’ve got the series but haven’t actually started watching it..” Going on: “When I hear that kids in primary school are being taught about homosexuality I think ‘isn’t that a bit young?’ but that’s how old fashioned I am. Kids at that age have no problem at all – they understand love. Why not gay characters in kids programmes – absolutely.”
Speaking of the work he does in schools, Sir Ian brought up an anecdote when he asked a head teacher if he had any out gay members of staff.
Despite the head saying no, when the star held his reception”a teacher put his hand up and said ‘I’m a teacher here and I’m gay’, and all the kids gasped – and then they cheered.”
The star said he would be scared, growing up as a young gay man in Russia today, and noted many changes here in the UK, but that there is still work to do in places like Northern Ireland which don’t have same-sex marriage.
He recalled starting Stonewall, and that the gay media were against the idea of working with the Government.
“When we started Stonewall, 27 years ago, the gay press were absolutely against us – they were much more radical – they said not to speak to Governments.”
He compared the gay rights movement to the Suffragettes, and the black civil rights movement, saying they are all vastly important but that the LGBT rights are usually non-violent.
Sir Ian said, apart from anti-gay violence, the LGBT rights movement had the strength of being able to get its point across without resorting to violence.
Saying his role model was Anthony Cotton, for being a camp gay man playing a camp character, Sir Ian also hailed Keegan Hirst for coming out whilst remaining a rugby union player.