Defends film and addresses controversy surrounding
Director Roland Emmerich is best known for mega-budget blockbusters like “Independence Day” (1996) and “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004). Collectively, the Emmerich filmography has grossed over one billion dollars in the U.S., making the action auteur one of the top twenty highest grossing directors in history.
Openly gay, Emmerich has been very vocal in speaking out against homophobia and racism in the movie business. In 2006 he gave $150,000 to The Legacy Project in support of gay and lesbian film preservation.
With the release of his new film “Stonewall” on Sept. 25, Emmerich takes a step back from summer blockbusters and takes a heartfelt look into his community's past. Stonewall is a fictionalized retelling of the legendary Stonewall Riots. In 1969, on a hot June night in New York City, a collection of gay men, lesbians, street hustlers, drag queens and transgender people, banded together and rioted for several nights. This was a direct response to the many years of police harassment they had endured as patrons of Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar. Patrons were tired of the abuse and refused to put up with another day of it. Their actions are credited with launching the nationwide LGBT equality movement.
In recent weeks, after distributor Roadside Attractions released a two-minute trailer, certain factions in the LGBT community condemned the film, saying that it "whitewashes" history. At issue is the casting of Jeremy Irvine, a white cisgender actor, as Danny Winters, the film's fictional lead. Say accused the film of erasing Trans people of color, an integral part of the riots. More than 25,000 people have signed a petition calling for a boycott of Stonewall.
"I was baffled," Emmerich during in a telephone interview in which he discussed the protests. "But maybe it’s a good thing because people will hear about the film. I'm over it."
The film, Emmerich said, features several portrayals of trans people of color, including a juicy supporting role for actor Otoja Abit as Marsha P. Johnson, a real life African American trans woman who participated in the riots.
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 were definitely there."
Emmerich explained his decision. "There's a real correlation between then and today," he said. "Forty percent of homeless kids are LGBT. The problem won't go away."
The filmmaker said he did a great deal of research prior to making Stonewall so that the finished film could be as close to the truth as possible. "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."
Many important points are made as the story unfolds. When Danny arrives in New York after being thrown out of his Midwest home for being gay, its Marsha and the street kids who embrace him.
"It's the kids of color who teach the white kid about survival and friendship," Emmerich points out. "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. Emmerich does not shy away from this inconvenient truth.
Emmerich said that at the end of the day, he hopes audiences will be uplifted by Stonewall. "We didn't want to do a story about the kid being destroyed," said the director. "We gave the film a positive feel. It's celebratory."
Stonewall opens on September 25.