Film Sets Gay Rights Back a Generation
Director Roland Emmerich was screwed before his epic, Stonewall, even hit the screens.
LGBT historians and activists began taking potshots after the first trailers were released months ago, leveling charges that the film did not accurately represent the role of drag queens and people of color in the historic 1969 Greenwich Village riots at the Stonewall Inn that marked the beginning of the gay civil rights movement.
Stonewall is clearly not a documentary, but rather a coming-out story set against the backdrop of historical events.
Danny (Jeremy Irvine) is an Indiana teen who was kicked out of the house by his father, the high school football coach, after getting caught with his pants down in a car with the quarterback.
Clearly overwhelmed by the hustle, bustle and filth of New York City, he settles in with a group of young drag queens and hustlers who are squatting in a tenement on Christopher Street, across from the Stonewall Inn.
Danny is beaten by homophobic, corrupt cops, gets forced into prostitution by a shady mob boss, hooks up with a smarmy Mattachine Society activist, and incites the riots after a bungled police raid -- all as his back story is revealed in soft-focus flashbacks.
Through the course of the film, Danny is introduced to real-life heroes of the gay rights movement, including Frank Kameny (Arthur Holden), who valiantly fought government restrictions against the employment of gays and lesbians, and Marsha P. Johnson (Otoja Abit), a black transgender activist and veteran of the riots.
Sound like a lot of plot for a 129-minute feature film? It is. There’s enough material in Jon Robin Baitz’s screenplay for a mini-series, and that clearly would have been the better format for this story.
Irvine is likeable as the naive Danny, but the performances of Jonny Beauchamp (Ray), Vladimir Alexis (Cong) and Ben Sullivan (Quiet Paul), members of the street queen gang that befriends him, powerfully reveal the gritty existence faced by many young LGBT people at the time. The fact-checkers can sleep a little better because drag queens and minorities did get the requisite amount of screen time.
But there is a Golden Raspberry trophy out there for Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) for his portrayal of Trevor, the Mattachine Society activist, the worst performance of the year in any film. Rhys Meyers is clearly straight and has never cruised another man in a gay bar. Method acting isn’t an option.
The biggest problem with Stonewall, though, is that it is just campy from the opening scene to the final credits. There was so much potential, especially from the performances of Irvine and Beauchamp and even Baitz’s bloated script.
But thanks to Emmerich’s heavy directorial hand, the film is doomed to alternate endlessly on the Logo TV schedule with those other overly ambitious but campy disasters, Mommie Dearest and Showgirls.