Many eyebrows were raised when filmmaker Roland Emmerich, the out gay German born director and producer of such schlocky hit films as Independence Day and 2012, announced a couple years ago that he was making a film about the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the spark that launched the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Emmerich has been an advocate for gay rights and visibility but his films tend to be of the splashy, CGI driven, pop corn munching crowd pleasing variety and not usually factual and intimate true life stories about seminal events.
Well, Emmerich has made his film, and Stonewall will make its world premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival next month and then follow up by opening in the US on September 25, 2015. The publicity for the film took off this week with the release of the official trailer for the film, but the film immediately earned the kind of publicity you don’t always want.
LGBTQ people and activists immediately started attacking the film after viewing the 2 minute 22 second long trailer, for “white washing” and “cis washing” the pivotal moment in LGBTQ history. The trailer showcases the film’s fictional main character, Danny (portrayed by British actor Jeremy Irvine) a white young man who flees small town life for the freedom of New York City and apparently single handedly throws the first brick at Stonewall. The rest of the trailer seems to showcase primarily cisgender white men as the leaders of Stonewall, which belies the actual events of June 28, 1969 and the following week of rioting which featured drag queens, trans people, lesbians, people of color and street kids taking a leading role in the event.
The top five credited actors in the film are all white and cisgender.
There are already numerous cries to boycott the film, solely based on the trailer. Emmerich has responded with the following statement: “I think we represented it very well,” he says. “We have drag queens, lesbians, we have everything in the film because we wanted to portray a broader image of what ‘gay’ means.”
Whether he’s aware of it or not, that was a patronizing response that seems to suggest tokenism and implies “drag queens, lesbians” and “everything” else is just seasoning to a story centered around white men.
Frankly, we think Mr. Emmerich, despite his intentions, was the wrong film maker for his film. While he clearly understands the fundamentals of commercial film making, he’s very blind to the needs of the LGBTQ community to see this story told from the correct perspective and to include EVERYONE involved in their correct roles and not at the expense of any marginalized group.
I can’t and won’t call for a boycott solely based on viewing a trailer; after all, it’s a 2 minute advertisement, not the actual finished product, but I will say my hopes are rather low for the entire film. Personally, I WANT to see the REAL, gritty Stonewall story with angry queens and fed up trans people, and furious street punks of ALL colors and genders and identities going to “war”. If I wanted to see angry, pretty white boys have a tizzy, I’ll go watch an old rerun of “Gossip Girl”.
And, even though I’m not a New Yorker, I’m also annoyed that the main character is an outsider. Stonewall is a NEW YORKER’S story. It’s not a pretty white boy from Hooterville story….
Here’s the trailer:
It should also be noted that while some press is claiming this is the first film about Stonewall, British filmmaker Nigel Finch made a film of the same name in 1995. Stonewall 95 was entirely fictional though based on factual events and took a stylized approach with interview footage of real Stonewall rioters cut into the fictional story. The film also heavily featured drag and trans characters as central to the plot and the film was a queer indie hit of its time. Sadly, Finch died of AIDS related causes while the film was in post-production.
Much more to come.