By David-Elijah Nahmod, November 2015 Web Exclusive.

Known for such mega-budget blockbusters as Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), director Roland Emmerich’s filmography has grossed over one billion dollars in the United States, making the openly gay auteur one of the top-20 highest grossing directors in history.

Stonewall director Roland Emmerich. Photo courtesy of facebook.com/stonewallmovie.

And along the way, Emmerich hasn’t shied away from speaking out against homophobia and racism in the movie business. And, in 2006, he gave $150,000 to The Legacy Project in support of gay and lesbian film preservation.

The Sept. 25 release of his new film, Stonewall, marked a departure from Emmerich’s usual summer blockbuster routine to take a heartfelt look into his community's past.

Stonewall is a fictionalized retelling of the legendary Stonewall Riots. On a hot June night in 1969, a collection of gay white men, lesbians, street hustlers, drag queens and transgender New Yorkers banded together to fight police oppression of patrons of a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, launching the nationwide LGBT equality movement.

In the weeks following the release of the distributor’s (Roadside Attractions) release of a two-minute trailer, certain factions in the LGBT community condemned the film, saying that it "whitewashes" queer history and erases the important role that transgender people of color played in the riots.

At issue, is the casting of Jeremy Irvine, a white cisgender actor, as Danny Winters, the film's fictional lead as well as the omission of trans people of color, an integral part of the historic riots. As a result, more than 25,000 people have signed a petition calling for a boycott of Stonewall.

Photo courtesy of facebook.com/stonewallmovie.

"I was baffled," Emmerich said, discussing the film’s protests via phone interview. "But maybe it’s a good thing because people will hear about the film. I'm over it."

The main focus of the film, Emmerich said, were the homeless LGBT youth who lived on the streets around the Stonewall Inn.

"I wanted to give a voice to the unsung heroes," Emmerich said. "The film is about a group of homeless kids, the unsung heroes of Stonewall that no one talks about, but they were definitely there."

Emmerich added that 40 percent of homeless kids are LGBT.

"There's a real correlation between then and today," he said. "The problem won't go away."

Additionally, the filmmaker maintains that he did great deal of research prior to making Stonewall, so the finished film could be as close to the truth as possible.

According to Emmerich, the film features several portrayals of trans people of color, including Jonny Beauchamp’s Oscar-worthy performance as Ray, aka Ramona, an embittered but kindhearted cross-dressing hustler who is most likely trans. Then there’s the juicy supporting role for actor Otoja Abit who portrays Marsha P. Johnson, an African American trans woman who participated in the riots. In a particularly memorable scene, Marsha socks the big burly neighborhood bully (Ron Perlman) across the jaw.

Photo courtesy of facebook.com/stonewallmovie.

"Marsha P. Johnson was a unique character," he said. "She had to be in the film. She was the only trans woman who was friendly to the street kids, according to research."

For example, when Danny arrives in New York after being thrown out of his Midwest home for being gay, it’s Marsha and the street kids who embrace him.

"It's the kids of color who teach the white kid about survival and friendship," Emmerich said. "We made the movie out of love. We don't want to offend or whitewash anything. It's out version of the story – it's a combination of how we got our rights and a coming of age story."

As the story progresses, viewers will see that Danny's whiteness, and his ability to "pass" for straight, enables him to get a job and go back to school. These options are not available to the queens on the street, an inconvenient truth that Emmerich does not shy away from. Ultimately, however, he added that he hopes audiences will be uplifted by Stonewall.

"We didn't want to do a story about the kid being destroyed," he said. "We gave the film a positive feel. It's celebratory."

For more information, visit thestonewallmovie.com.

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