To note that Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall, a heavily-fictionalized (i.e., factually dubious) retelling of the events that took place leading up to the historic queer-led Christopher Street protests in 1969, has been met with controversy would be an understatement as riotous as the events depicted in the film.
By now, you likely already know the film’s sad path to theatrical release. The trailer dropped in early August to much dismay over its focus on a fictitious white, blond twink
savior protagonist (Jeremy Irvine), rather than any of the real-life heroes who were there during the watershed moment. There were threats of protests and boycotts, particularly from notable trans activists outraged that the contributions of trans pioneers and people of color had been downplayed, or as the media described it, “whitewashed.” The filmmakers (Emmerich and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz) and cast (Irvine), sensing a disaster worthy of Emmerich’s oeuvre, stepped up to attempt damage control, suggesting people wait until they saw the entire film to form their opinions.
That’s when the real
problems fun began. As soon as the film was screened for critics and folks in the media during the past weeks, word quickly spread about unintentional laughter from the audience during the film’s pivotal dramatic moments. Early reviews began to trickle in and, as Emmerich instructed, critics offered their informed opinions. Most agreed that Emmerich and company not only neglected to create a politically correct or historically accurate account of the riots, but their film epically failed as entertainment. Stonewall currently has a 7% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Earlier this week, Emmerich delivered what is likely the final blow to potentially friendly queer audiences when he stated during an interview with BuzzFeed, “You have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people. I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny] is a very easy in. Danny’s very straight-acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him.”
Aw, Roland, how gentlemanly of you to rewrite our history as a concession to hetero audiences and to make their comfort your priority. Now it’s our turn to respond in kind and avoid your stink bomb, which should work no hardship on anyone.
Scroll down for reviews from writers around the nation who lobbed critical bricks at the catastrophe Emmerich has unleashed upon movie audiences.
In a piece aptly titled “There Aren’t Enough Bricks in the World to Throw at Roland Emmerich’s Appalling Stonewall,” Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak offers:
Rather than choose something debatable, the filmmakers created something definitively untrue. Rather than exploring the conflicting stories of what sparked the riot (was it Marsha P. Johnson’s shot glass, a high heel, a brick, or what?), which could have made for a fascinating formal exercise, they just credited the white guy. Rather than really examine Stonewall, a place obviously brimming with unheard stories of extreme living, Emmerich and company decided to center their narrative on a dude who drops by the bar a few times while floating through the city (only to settle uptown at Columbia when the summer ends). Imagine, just one time, an ensemble led by a character who isn’t white and “straight-acting.” Imagine people of color being used for more than just support.
Like many critics, IndieWire’s Charles Bramesco lays most of the blame on Baitz’s screenplay:
The thick blanket of badness that covers the entirety of the film doesn’t do its problematic subtextual politics any favors, either. At the very least, Emmerich can hold his head high in the knowledge that he wasn’t responsible for the astonishingly thick script — that distinction belongs to Jon Robin Baitz, the pen behind such stirring moments as one during the climactic riot, in which our hero raises his fist to the heavens and screams “GAY POWER!” Come to think of it, that’s really what most of the film feels like: a fist shoved in a face and words howled into ears. The insulting obviousness with which characters make declarations about the Change That Must Come and the Injustice That Has Been Suffered For Too Long strip the film of any potential for resonant poignance with its intended audience. Emmerich’s freedom fighters speak not like human beings, but political mouthpieces designed to express the simplest ideas for the simplest-minded audiences.
MetroWeekly‘s Randy Shulman shared his outrage:
Stonewall is a defamation not just to our community, but to moviegoers of all genders, sexualities, race, creed, you have it. A vanity project of astonishingly huge proportions, it’s the deeply misguided work of a white, gay, obscenely privileged man thumping his chest and proclaiming, “This is how I see our history.”