I’ll confess, the instantaneous backlash on Tuesday against the new trailer for Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall took me by surprise — maybe because I try never to take the measure of a movie using a corporate marketing tool as a yardstick. Nevertheless, the outcry this week has touched on several legitimate concerns and the conversations these issues sparked are heartfelt and thought-provoking.
THR neatly sums up the source of perceptions that have so many people up in arms:
It was supposed to be a love letter from a blockbuster filmmaker to a community he had overlooked for too long, focusing instead on big-budget disaster films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. But openly gay director Roland Emmerich is now finding that his small-scale passion project, Stonewall, is turning into a bit of a disaster itself.
The historical drama recounts the events surrounding the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a bloody standoff with police outside a Greenwich Village gay bar that is widely credited with kicking off the modern gay-rights movement.
“I want to do a little movie, about $12 to $14 million,” the Germany-born Emmerich said of the project back in 2013. “It’s about these crazy kids in New York, and a country bumpkin who gets into their gang, and at the end they start this riot and change the world.”
It’s that “country bumpkin” character, however, that has become the source of much grousing about the film, almost all of which has come from within the LBGT community to which it is presumably geared.
Nobody doubts that many white kids (and grown white men) were directly affected by arrests at the Stonewall Inn that hot Saturday night at the tail end of the ’60s, but nearly everybody was rightly riled up this week when the trailer omitted to show people of color in prominent roles — no drag queens or lesbians either — all of whom played instrumental roles in the milestone demonstrations that followed.
Though the Stonewall Riot was a multicultural protest, credit for its incitement has long fallen to transgender minorities — figures like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a Stonewall Inn patron who refused to submit to demands that she produce identification for an undercover police raid. (Griffin-Gracy was beaten by police and carted off to central booking, resulting in a broken jaw.)
Then there was Storme DeLarverie, also known as “the Gay Community’s Rosa Parks,” an African-American lesbian who was the first of the protesters to punch a cop. And Sylvia Rivera, a then-17-year-old Puerto Rican drag queen who was simply “tired of being just pushed around.”
I’m not backing down from my own personal opinion that the petition being circulated to boycott Stonewall because it’s not all things to all people is the wrong way to work toward pushing filmmakers to be much more careful when they build a fictionalized drama around the framework of historical events. It’s my feeling that there are dozens of individual stories to be told about significant social turning points in our history, and it doesn’t bother me very much if writers choose different facets to capture and refract different rays of light for 2 hours. Mostly though, it discourages me to see an uproar and pushback against one of the exceedingly rare mainstream Hollywood gay-themed movies that studios have deigned to give us in the past decade. Because if anyone thinks we can force Hollywood to make the movies we want by refusing to buy tickets to movies that try to come close, then those protesters are in for a rude awakening.
Think it through: “No! We won’t go see this gay movie!” is not the sort of temper tantrum that’s going to motivate studio executives to greenlight more gay movies. Nope, the way we get more gay movies made is by supporting every effort as much as we can afford, no matter the flaws or shortcomings — the very same way studios are happy to flood multiplexes with dozens of superheroes, no matter that 90% of them of them are glossy pieces of CGI crap. Want to see as many different colors of gay people onscreen as the myriad colors of capes and spandex pants we see on dozens of superhuman crusaders? Then please try to swallow your Pride and go sit through a white boy’s story (written by a Pulitzer Prize finalist), so that story can make some money. Nothing wrong with voicing concern and making demands for more diversity. But let’s bolster those demands with a show of good faith that studios can literally bank on.
And to help us accept what we’re being given this year, let’s try to remember what we should already know: the trailer is not the movie. Roland Emmerich has posted this reassurance on his Facebook page:
When I first learned about the Stonewall Riots through my work with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, I was struck that the circumstances that lead to LGBT youth homelessness today are pretty much the same as they were 45 years ago. The courageous actions of everyone who fought against injustice in 1969 inspired me to tell a compelling, fictionalized drama of those days centering on homeless LGBT youth, specifically a young midwestern gay man who is kicked out of his home for his sexuality and comes to New York, befriending the people who are actively involved in the events leading up to the riots and the riots themselves. I understand that following the release of our trailer there have been initial concerns about how this character’s involvement is portrayed, but when this film – which is truly a labor of love for me – finally comes to theaters, audiences will see that it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there — including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Ray Castro — and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day. We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance.
See the movie. Let’s do that. Then we throw whatever effervescent hissy fits we want after we know what the hell we’re talking about.
*(be sure to read the excellent footnote in the 2nd comment below, more reassurance from Jeremy Irvine, brought to us by Kevin Klawitter).