The Stonewall movie adaptation has been mired in controversy from the moment the first trailer released, and things haven’t really calmed down since then. I had a slim flicker of hope that it was just a case of a bad trailer, but it seems the concerns of the LGBT community were rightly placed, at least judging from the reviews.
I haven’t had the… er, pleasure of seeing it yet, and I’m not sure I want to. Reviews of the film have been scathing, so let’s take a look at some excerpts.
The Heights: “Stonewall couldn’t be more whitewashed than if it was doused in Clorox Bleach and thrown into the laundry three times over.”
Uproxx: “Having Danny throw the first brick at the Stonewall riots is a bit like when Marty McFly goes back in time and steals rock ‘n’ roll from Chuck Berry, taking history away from the real participants.”
News observer: “Somehow, director Roland Emmerich has made a movie even less historically accurate than 10,000 BC, the one depicting Egyptian-style pyramids being constructed with the help of woolly mammoths.”
The Advocate: “To place the first brick thrown at the onset of the modern LGBT rights movement in the hand of a handsome young white man is not only out of touch with history; from a contemporary standpoint, it is downright offensive. After all, there would be no modern rights movement, no Stonewall, without LGBT people of color.”
Defamer: “You get more of a sense of what it’s like to visit SeaWorld in the notoriously abysmal Jaws 3D than you do what it was like to patronize Stonewall in Stonewall. Stonewall teaches you about as much about being gay as the Aristocats taught you about being an aristocrat.”
Vulture: “Unfortunately, Roland Emmerich is a terrible filmmaker, and his efforts to make his protagonist “relatable” backfire spectacularly.”
So, where exactly has the film gone wrong? Judging from various reviews, the main core of the problem is the choice of main character. For some reason, Roland Emmerich decided to make a fictional cisgender white male named Danny the main character of the film, even to the point where he throws the first brick. This action is, of course, commonly attributed to Marsha P Johnson, a drag queen and woman of colour.
I think you’re starting to get a picture now of why people are so upset. So not only did the director “whitewash”, Danny’s character falls completely flat on his face. His character is slammed for being “one dimensional” and this segment from Vanity Fair’s review seems to summarise the feelings of most reviewers quite well.
“But more troubling was how Emmerich seemed to be framing the story, with Jeremy Irvine playing some beautiful, blond angel from the Midwest, sent to the Village to marshall the non-white, gender-queer street kids into action. Which, y’know, is certainly not how the Stonewall riots, which were largely incited by drag queens and trans women of color and lesbians, actually happened[….]Stonewall insists, with its hokey story about Danny’s personal growth and struggles with his family back home in Indiana, that what actually happened isn’t good enough. That no one will care unless there’s a beautiful young white man at the center of the story.”
To be honest, I think a lot of this stems from the choice of Emmerich as director. From the start he seemed an odd choice, because even though he is gay himself, he just doesn’t usually do this type of film. He is best known for The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and White House Down. So while those films do what they do (dumb, yet entertaining action) well, Roland is used to appealing to a mass market.
Perhaps this is where the decision to add Danny into the mix came from. But I refuse to believe that having a film about all the main players (because Stonewall was a culmination of people rising up together) would have been better, and actually focusing on the people who were actually there would have been better.
In a year when we have Transparent winning awards, and Straight Outta Compton raking in over $190,352,685 so far, I refuse to believe that having the actual main players as the stars wouldn’t have worked.
It seems this feeling is echoed by a lot of moviegoers, too, as during the opening weekend it has done pretty poorly. Indiewire have reported that the film made $112,414. And no, that’s not a typo.
I will most likely watch the film, and I will most likely review it. But make no mistake – that one remaining flicker of hope has been extinguished, and I don’t think it’s coming back.