A white, gay Midwesterner walks into a bar.
His name is Danny. The bar is the Stonewall Inn.
And the rest of the joke just … doesn’t add up.
Last year, Hollywood took a shot at telling Danny’s story in the film “Stonewall.”
Inspired by an “incredible true story” (at least in theory), “Stonewall” aimed to capture the famous 1969 riots at the bar where New York’s queer community rose up against an unjust police raid. Historians often point to that moment as the birth of the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement.
Danny, the fictional main character, largely became the face of the film.
Fast-forward a year later, and we have “Bar Fights“: an episode of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” that aired on Oct. 11, 2016.
The sketch on Stonewall is only six minutes long, the narrator is (as you could have guessed by the show’s title) wasted, and its budget was likely a drop in the bucket compared to director Roland Emmerich’s depiction of the riots.
And yet, it got so much more right than Hollywood’s 2015 telling of the events.
“Drunk History” told the story of Marsha P. Johnson, a queer person of color who helped lead the riots at Stonewall.
A celebrated LGBTQ rights and AIDS activist, Johnson died in 1992.
In the episode, Johnson, played by the brilliant Alexandra Grey, was downright hilarious.
Comedy Central’s version explained how the NYPD’s public morals division (yeah, that was a thing) raided the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969.
Why? Because they were transphobic and homophobic as hell.
Johnson was not having it, though.
As the history books note, she was a leader in the riots that unfolded.
Things turned violent, and there was more than enough pain to go around.
But in a way, the contention that night in New York City acted as a springboard, pushing LGBTQ rights into a bigger conversation and helping unite the community.
Compared to the film “Stonewall,” “Drunk History” did a phenomenal job at getting the important stuff right.
Not only did it highlight a pivotal moment in our civil rights history by using the story of a real person, but it cast the right people, too.
Although it wasn’t obvious in the film, many of the leaders of the 1969 riots were transgender and people of color. That’s why, in “Drunk History,” it mattered that Grey as well as actress Trace Lysette, who portrayed activist Sylvia Rivera in the episode are actually transgender.
Too often, parts for trans characters are given to cisgender actors who pretend to be trans for the role. In these circumstances, the “but they’re just acting!” argument doesn’t cut it.
Not only does a cisgender actor playing a transgender character limit the opportunities for actual trans actors, but it bolsters misperceptions about being trans that, underneath it all, trans people are just “men in dresses.” And that directly harms real trans people in the real world.
“Drunk History” is just as much about the laughs as it is about giving viewers a thorough history lesson.
But in its six-minute depiction of the Stonewall riots, it did something Hollywood has failed to do time and time again, and that’s pretty revolutionary.
Watch “Drunk History’s” “Bar Fights” episode below: