The knives are out for Stonewall, Roland Emmerich’s new movie about the birth of the LGBT rights movement.
Recounting the events of the 1969 riots, in which gay, drag and transgender patrons of New York City’s Stonewall Inn bar fought back against homophobic police officers, the film came under fire even before it was released.
Activists lashed out at the trailer last month, calling it out for “whitewashing” history by placing a fictional white male at the centre of the action instead of one of the people of colour who predominantly led the riots.
Now critics have joined the growing condemnation of the film after it was screened at the Toronto Film Festival last week.
In a scathing review for Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote that, “Stonewall is perhaps even worse than some feared it would be—more offensive, more white-washed, even more hackishly made. It’s so bad that it’s hard to know where to begin a catalogue of the film’s sins.”
He said that the lead character of Danny, played by blonde English model and actor, Jeremy Irvine, does little more than look good in a T-shirt, while real-life transgender Stonewall hero Marsha P. Johnson “only gets a little screen time, and is played as comic relief.”
He added that, “Stonewall is ultimately yet another cartoonish fantasy about white saviours and square-jawed heroes; it should be called Independence Gay.”
Writing for Defamer, Rich Juzwiak said, “that there aren’t enough bricks in the world to throw at Roland Emmerich’s appalling Stonewall.” He also described the film as a “monstrosity” and a “bland atrocity.”
Emmerich defended himself in an interview with BuzzFeed, explaining that he chose to cast a white “straight-acting” male lead so that more people could connect with the film.
“You have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people,” he said. “Danny’s very straight-acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him.”
Emmerich added: “As a director you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and gay.”
The problem, of course, is that Stonewall is not a personal or fictional story but one based on historical and culturally significant events, and that requires authenticity and some responsibility to what actually transpired.
Activists who’ve threatened to boycott Stonewall can probably sit back and relax. By all accounts, Emmerich appears to have already single-handedly sunk the film.
Stonewall opens in the US on Friday. A South African release date has yet to be announced.