Roland Emmerich Says People Were Too Quick To Judge “Stonewall” Movie–But Were We?

"For people to judge something based on just a trailer shocked me."

Upon telling my friends that I had attended a screening of Stonewall, director Roland Emmerich’s new movie depicting the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the response was singular:

“Well… did it white-wash history?”

Related: Jonny Beauchamp Discusses Playing Genderfluid Hustler Ray In New “Stonewall” Featurette

Not ’how was the film?’ or ’how were the performances?’, but a unified protective front from my LGBT brothers and sisters, all of whom seemed to unainmiously feel that–judging solely from the trailer–the film had missed the mark on what they perceived to be an obligation to accurately depict a story so important to our history as queer people.

“I was surprised and thought people were too quick to judge,” Emmerich tells me as we sit at the bar of the Stonewall Inn, him feverishly turning his Starbucks coffee round-and-around.

“First of all, we don’t know who threw [the first brick]. There were so many people there. But that’s not the point. The point is that there is artistic expression when you make a movie, and to judge something based on just a trailer shocked me. I think when people saw I was directing, they thought this would be a ’Hollywood film’ but what they don’t realize is that this movie was independently financed.”

I did my best to press Emmerich, his eyes continuing to avoid my gaze, explaining that the backlash lie more in the lack of diversity represented in the film.

“I think it’s transgender peoples’ year, and I think they were pissed off, and I totally understand why,” he responded. “I’m friends with a transgender woman, you might know her, Candice Cayne, and I’ve heard the horrible stories she’s had to go through.”

(What that had to do with the Stonewall backlash, I couldn’t tell you.)

Nonetheless, acknowledging myself as a white cisgender male, I’ll let you decide if you feel the film white-washed history when you do–if you do–see the film.

Paris Is Burning or Love! Valour! Compassion! it is not in the canon of important LGBT films, but there’s a handful of things this film does right (namely, co-star Jonny Beauchamp’s performance as Ray/Ramona) that have gone unmentioned as the larger arc of “white-washing” that has overtaken much of the conversation surrounding this film.


And maybe that’s a good thing. Why should we turn the other cheek at such a blatant attempt to sanitize a history that textbooks ignore entirely?

“My first thought is: how dare they attempt to do this again?” Miss Major Griffen-Grace, a former sex worker and community leader who participated in the Stonewall Riots, remarked in an interview with Autostraddle. “A few years ago they did another Stonewall movie, and I swear if I saw a black person, it had to be a shadow running against the face of somebody who was white!”

She wasn’t the only one speaking out.

Despite the blowback, Emmerich continues to defend his struggle to get the film made.

“No studio would bid for it,” Emmerich, whose past films include Hollywood blockbusters Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, explains. “Past LGBT films have had essential characters; they’ve cast a Sean Penn or two good looking guys like Brokeback Mountain–I’ve worked with those actors so I know why those movies got made. I think these movies have to be made. I’m a very stubborn person and when I want to do something, I do it. There’s no one that can stop me really.”

“When I grew up, I was into making American films; all of my heroes were the American directors like George Lucas, Steven Spieldberg and John Carpenter. I thought to myself, ’If I’m going to be a gay director, I cannot do these types of films.’ I would have had a different career if I came out early. But when I came to Hollywood, I met openly gay directors like Joel Schumacher and Bryan Singer and realized ’I can be openly gay’. From then on, I never had any pushback. It was embraced.”

Things that have not been embraced: Stonewall.

Critics have been largely united in their distaste for the movie: Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak called the film a “monstrosity,” Slant’s Richard Scott Larson called it “reductive and diminishing” and Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson said the film was “so bad that it’s hard to know where to begin a catalogue of the film’s sins.”

An unidentifed group of young poeple celebrate outside the boarded-up Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher Street) after riots over the weekend of June 27, 1969. The bar and surrounding area were the site of a series of demonstrations and riots that led to the formation of the modern gay rights movement in the United States. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)
Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

One thing is for certain: whether the film’s impact even makes a ripple, the memory, importance and impact of the real-life Stonewall Inn, the 1969 demonstrations and subsequent Gay Pride marches in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago will never be forgotten.