Director defends putting fictional gay white male character at center of film about 1969 riots
Roland Emmerich‘s drama “Stonewall” comes with the tagline “Where Pride Began,” but for many LGBT advocates the indie film opening on Friday is not a source of pride but anger.
The Gay-Straight Alliance Network has called for a boycott of the movie, accusing Emmerich of marginalizing the role of LGBT people of color in the 1969 protests against police brutality that helped launch the modern gay rights movement.
Emmerich and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz, who are both openly gay, chose to build their film around a fictional young, gay, white, Midwestern man (played by British actor Jeremy Irvine) who arrives in Manhattan and becomes a key player in the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
“It’s not just a little bit inaccurate, it’s a lot,” Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, an advocacy group for the bisexual community, told TheWrap. She criticized Emmerich and Baitz for taking liberties with actual events.
“Fiction still has a responsibility. Filmmakers have a responsibility to not re-create history, to not take someone else’s history and turn it into their own,” Cheltenham said. “That’s an affront to civility, really. And it’s theft. It’s the wholesale appropriation of a group of people that were there.”
Transgender pioneer Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who was present at the Stonewall protests, derided the film for casting a white male as a putative hero.
“I’m, sorry, the boy’s not Tarzan. He didn’t run into the jungle and rescue us from the lion’s den, so why even do this? Why not just tell it like it was or leave it alone?” she told TheWrap. “You want to call it whitewashing, that’s fine. I call it lying.”
Emmerich, best known for big-budget action movies like “Independence Day” and “White House Down,” has further inflamed LGBT advocates with some of his recent statements defending the focus on a fictional white character.
“I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people,” he told Buzzfeed. “As a director you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and gay.”
Emmerich has not responded to TheWrap’s request for comment, but he previously acknowledged the backlash against his film that cropped up when the trailer was released this summer.
“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,” he wrote on Facebook.
Johnson, who founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries and who reportedly played a major role in the Stonewall riots, is a secondary character in the film.
The group Stonewalling Accurate & Inclusive Depictions plans to hold a rally outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on Thursday, the eve of the film’s release: “Come learn the true history of the Stonewall Rebellion rather than the ‘Stonewall’ film’s whitewashed propaganda.”
Baitz’ agent at CAA did not respond to an email requesting comment, but the screenwriter posted a Facebook response to the controversy, writing he has “tremendous empathy for those who think they are being erased, removed and made once more invisible. I really do not think that’s what this movie is…”
He added that “Stonewall” is not meant to be a definitive account of the historical event.
For Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, there is no excuse for taking shortcuts with a true story. “If you’re going to have a movie, have a movie about the kind of people who attended and loved that bar, the community that frequented that bar,” she said. “It was the girls and the non-conforming people… You just were who you were. And how you presented is how you were accepted.”
Faith Cheltenham added, “What will the next Stonewall movie be? I hope it’s the story of these amazing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people of color, white folks, young folks, older folks, poor people. People who then organized.”