Review: Stonewall Is A Massive Misfire
Author: Roland Emmerich
Screenwriter: Jon Robin Baitz
Principal Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ron Pearlman, Otoja Abit, and Joey King
Summary: A young man’s political awakening and coming of age during the days and weeks leading up to the Stonewall Riots.
There are times when you can judge a movie months before it comes out just by looking at the writing on the wall. Now, sometimes a movie can surprise you but, in this case, I didn’t have a lot of faith. The Stonewall Riots are often cited as a turning point in American History for the LGBTQ community. One of the figureheads of the riots was a black trans woman named Marsha P. Johnson. There is a good (and important) story to be told here, yet when the cast was released the lead was a young white man as directed by Roland Emmerich. That writing seemed to be as big as a building.
Stonewall takes an important moment in the history of the LGBTQ community and turns the focus almost entirely on the coming of age story of a closeted white boy who didn’t exist.
There have already been major calls for boycotts when it comes to this movie and the debate surrounding the casting has been going on since day one. The final product was just as infuriating as I thought it was going to be and something that made me angrier as the day went on. To show how out of touch this movie is, the first brick that is thrown that ensights the riot was thrown by Marsha in real life but, in this movie it’s by Danny (Jeremy Irvine). They couldn’t give this woman her moment, they had to make this boring non entity the person who started this riot. The riot in question was a scene that lasted all of five minutes in a two hour movie. The rest of the movie focuses almost entirely on Danny as he comes to terms with being gay and what that means.
Hollywood has a history of taking American history and making it whiter, but in this case I feel like it was all for nothing. For the sake of argument let’s say that having a black trans woman as your lead is going to be a turnoff for some audiences so the filmmakers made up this random white boy to try and bring that audience in. However, the type of person that wouldn’t see a movie with a black trans woman as the lead are the types that weren’t going to see a movie about gay rights in the first place. They are pandering to an audience that doesn’t exist. This could be forgiven if they had Danny as a background player watching all of this unfold, but huge parts of the movie are dedicated to watching him get thrown out by his parents, how he got caught in the first place and a pseudo love story between him and a prostitute named Ray (Jonny Beauchamp). The real people involved in these events move around as if they are the background players to Danny’s far more important story.
I’m not going to waste time talking about the other characters in this movie. The entire group of street kids that Danny falls in with were so over the top, even by movie standards, that I couldn’t take any of them seriously. They were all one note and really only there to show how many kids were left on the streets for being gay. As I said, the real background players move in the background as glorified cameos rather than the focus. All of this can be laid at the feet of writer Jon Robin Baitz who hasn’t written anything of note. The rest of the blame falls to director Roland Emmerich because while Emmerich always puts politics in his movies, they are usually framed by big, dumb action scenes. There was not a single emotional moment that hit the mark throughout the entire production. The actual riot takes up a very small part of the movie and even that scene is boring.
Stonewall commits the cardinal sin of trying to show a fictionalized version of history in a world where nearly anyone can google “stonewall riots” and see who really did all the work. If we are still so uncomfortable with presenting history how it actually was, then we haven’t come nearly as far as some would lead you to think. If you can’t tell an important moment in history even a lttle accurately then don’t bother to try, just like I wouldn’t bother seeing Stonewall.