I woke today, amidst the muggy haze of sleep, to the news that Roland Emmerich's Stonewall had grossed only $112,414 from 127 theaters, with a meagre average $871 per location. And I rejoiced.
Stonewall was, for anyone who managed to avoid the well-deserved storm of fury that surrounded it, a stunningly complete guide on how not to handle a historical movie focussed on minority issues. While Emmerich's stated intent was to create a dramatic and accessible account of the titular Stonewall Riots of 1969, the resulting film was so poorly intended, produced, handled and marketed that it managed to chop off its own kneecaps before it had even arrived at the first hurdle of its opening weekend. Metacritic reviews rate the film a poor 30, citing "an avalanche of stereotypes and bad writing" (Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic) and a tone "closer to a Monty Python skit or a Village People music vid" (Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer) than an emotional, evocative docu-drama about one of the most pivotal moments in the struggle for civil rights by the LGBTQ+ community.
The general public seem to have been little kinder. On Rotten Tomatoes, despite average ratings of 4.6-5, the film has a bare 10% rating overall - and despite that confoudingly high approval rating, the lack of butts in seats in the theatres speaks for itself.
But why should I - a young queer woman whose far-too-tolerant friends have listened to me protest the lack of LGBTQ+ portrayal and subject matter in cinema for hours after an ill-fated screening fails to meet my standards - be happy about this? Problematic as it was, Stonewall was, at least, a sign of interest in queer issues and their history by a film-making machine that spends most of its time trying to brush us under the rug. Surely any representation in Hollywood, any vehicle that could generate the interest to introduce people to the real history of Stonewall and the LGBTQ+ history of America (and, in a way, the world) was worth it?
No. Absolutely not. Why? Because, in fact, of something that Roland Emmerich himself said, in an interview with Buzzfeed: "You have to understand one thing: I didn't make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people."
That single statement encapsulates everything that is wrong with Stonewall, and encapsulates the reason why I would sooner have no movie than the one we got.
What Roland Emmerich is saying is that there exists some essential difference in nature between gay and straight people, a difference so deeply ingrained and insurmountable that straight audiences need an "easy in" through a fictional white man, written specifically to be "straight acting" so that straight people might, just might, be able to understand the struggle of those strange not-quite-normal 'gays' and understand why they won't stop whinging about civil rights and discrimination even after the right to marriage obviously signalled the end of every struggle they have ever faced.
It is utterly devastating to me - as it should be to you - that one of the most recognised names in Hollywood, an acclaimed director with enough clout to have changed the landscape of LGBTQ+ representation in films, and a gay man himself, could willingly and knowingly push aside and systematically other the very people this film should have been a beacon for. A film that should have broken down the barriers has instead reinforced them by insisting that there is no way that a straight person could possibly understand, support, or relate to the struggles of anyone other than other straight people, because our differing sexual and romantic preferences render us unsympathetic and incomprehensible to normal, cinemagoing straight people.
In the light of this disastrous belief, the rest of the film's horrors fall into place: minimising the role of the real-life activists on the grounds that "there were only a couple of transgender women in the Stonewall ever. They were like a minority", the uncomfortable "white saviour" undertones of POC character Ray being reduced entirely to a one-sided love affair with the straight-acting white avatar - and, worst of all, the misrepresentation and ignorance toward the actual causes and outcomes of the Stonewall Riots themselves, so that these misguided queer people can instead learn from the fictional straight man avatar "that you can make it, that you can study, you can maybe have a more regular life". A life like the straight people, who find us so utterly and irrevocably beyond comprehension as fellow human beings.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. Everyone, from critics to casual moviegoers, straight and gay and all shades of queer alike, utterly rejected the film and its condescending, backward, divisive narrative. For all it represents the worst of Hollywood, Stonewall will, hopefully, warn the directors of the world off these antics in future - for economic reasons, if the moral, social and logical fail to break through. It is my dearest hope that this disaster will be a springboard for change, and thanks to it, maybe one day the LGBTQ+ community will get our own Selma, or 12 Years A Slave, a story that doesn't flinch away from its subject matter, that takes a stand for itself - and that truly invites everyone to stand with it.