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Director Roland Emmerich Still Thinks ‘Stonewall Was A White Event’

Roland Emmerich. CREDIT: PHOTO BY CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION/AP
Roland Emmerich. CREDIT: PHOTO BY CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION/AP

Did you see Stonewall? Based on its abysmal box office performance, it seems safe to assume you did not. The terrifically abominable thing — just a badly-planned and shoddily-executed work from start to finish — premiered last September and grossed just $187,674.

Stonewall is offensive on two counts: Not just for being a lousy movie, but also for whitewashing history. The 1969 Stonewall riots, as has been well-documented, was a landmark event for LGBT rights; two of the most prominent protesters were trans women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

But Stonewall director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Patriot) wanted his movie to appeal to the masses, he explained to Buzzfeed, and in order to get that mainstream appeal, he created a fictional protagonist, Danny. Danny is gay but, in Emmerich’s words, “very straight-acting.” He is cis and he is white. He moves from Indiana to New York City and, in the film, is the brick-throwing rebel that incites the riots that sparked a movement.

Perhaps it will not surprise you to know that many, many LGBT individuals and allies objected to this act of erasure — Johnson makes little more than a cameo, Rivera is M.I.A. — and over 20,000 people signed a petition promising to boycott the movie altogether.

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One might think that Emmerich, nearly a year out from his film’s release and subsequent commercial and critical failure (Rotten Tomatoes rating: 9 percent) would, upon reflection, realize his errors. Or not! In an interview with The Guardian pegged to the release of sure-to-be-cinematic-masterpiece Independence Day: Resurgence, Emmerich “sighs at the memory of his passion project’s reception.”

“My movie was exactly what they said it wasn’t. It was politically correct. It had black, transgender people in there,” Emmerich said. “We just got killed by one voice on the internet who saw a trailer and said, this is whitewashing Stonewall. Stonewall was a white event, let’s be honest. But nobody wanted to hear that any more.”

“Let’s be honest” does not, in fact, have the magical power of transforming a false statement into a true, would that it were so. And the remarks about the LGBT experience as white-first, everybody-else-second come across as particularly callous in the aftermath of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Pulse; over 90 percent of the 49 victims were Latino. After the massacre, hundreds of people gathered at and around Stonewall Inn for a vigil.