Directed by Roland Emmerich
Opens September 25
The cardinal sin of Stonewall—the supposition that a blond, straight-acting 18-year-old transplant from Indiana threw the first brick and incited the riot—has already prompted several preemptive boycotts. (It’s well documented that it was likely Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera, butch lesbians, or any of the other POC who frequented the bar actually kicked things off; the film’s version of events has Ms. Johnson handcuffed to Stonewall club owner/Mafioso Ed Murphy as he makes a wacky escape.) This certainly isn’t the first time that “liberal Hollywood” has made a white person/people the central focus of a big budget civil rights drama—from Mississippi Burning to Philadelphia to The Help, the song remains the same.
And yet there are moments in Roland Emmerich’s laughably bad take on this seminal moment in gay history that note and challenge its protagonist’s privilege, as well as drawing attention to the still-present reality of homelessness that disproportionately affects GLBT people—an issue eclipsed by the fight for gay marriage over the past fifteen years. Danny (Jeremy Irvine) arrives via bus to the conspicuously clean streets of Greenwich Village after being kicked out of his Edenic small town, and is immediately taken in by a ragtag group of black and latinx trans/gay hustlers who, thanks to Jon Robin Baitz’s script, come off more like the Spencer Gifts/Hot Topic version of a Lou Reed song rather than people with withering wit and wisdom shaped by years on the streets. In the hot days leading up to the riots, Danny shuttles between sleeping on the streets, in squats with twelve other guys, and in the lush apartment of an older respectability-politics gay (played by Mr. Velvet Goldmine himself, Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who likes young men and keeps insisting on holding more meetings. Despite the turmoil of losing his family, being homeless, dabbling with hustling, getting beat up by the cops at the piers, and eating whatever and whenever he can, Danny maintains an Equinox-level of pert muscle mass and never attains the leathery tan that characterizes (white) homelessness, as do “the Village Girls”—even history isn’t safe from gay body image issues!
However, the film veers off into truly reprehensible and unbelievable territory after Danny, pushed to his wit’s end after only a few weeks, invents gay outrage by smashing a window. The actual riots only last a few heart-pumping minutes before everyone agrees that the world has forever changed. Danny goes back to Indiana a year later—for what could really only be about twenty minutes—to see the quarterback who broke his heart and reach out to his family. The film then flashes forward again to the first gay rights parade where his mom and sister stand on the sidewalk, cheering him along like he’s completing the marathon. While there were always allies, it’s difficult to believe that anyone would feel safe going home after literally being run out of town—or just existing in a universally homophobic environment. (It’s difficult not to think of Matthew Shephard during this final bullshit act.) Can you boycott something that you’d never want to see anyway? Tell your well-meaning, leftie family to stay home and massage their beliefs of how far we’ve come some other way.