Perhaps inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Stonewall director Roland Emmerich is here to say he ain’t sorry. Last year, the German-born director of big popcorn fare like Independence Day and The Patriot was roundly pilloried for his passion project, Stonewall. The film told the history of the Stonewall riots, the LGBT uprising against police crackdowns in New York in 1969, through the eyes of a fictional character named Danny Winters, played by British actor Jeremy Irvine. From the film’s first trailer to its subsequent release, the film was criticized for centering queer history on a white, cisgender man, prompting a boycott of the film before it was savaged by critics. Emmerich, however, doesn’t see it that way. He sighs to The Guardian:
My movie was exactly what they said it wasn’t. It was politically correct. It had black, transgender people in there. 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.
Emmerich’s account of what happened is perhaps as revisionist as the movie itself. As The Guardian notes in a parenthetical: “Reports and photographs from Stonewall in fact indicate that the riots were started by gay, straight, trans, white, black, and Latino protesters.” Two significant figures, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, either appeared briefly or as a “composite” character in the film. Additionally, many people criticized the film (yes, after having seen it), not only because it offered a distorted view of history, but because it was badly made. The cumulative gross for Stonewall was a paltry $187,674; the film scored a 9 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes (that’s 91 percent rotten), and a Metacritic score of 30 out of 100. In his Vulture review, Bilge Ebiri wrote, “Unfortunately, Roland Emmerich is a terrible filmmaker, and his efforts to make his protagonist ‘relatable’ backfire spectacularly.”
But Emmerich is applying the same philosophy that moved him away from Germany. After a couple of his German films bombed, he left for Hollywood, saying he was “driven out of Germany by the critics.” Emmerich says, “I was successful in Hollywood and when I came back to Germany, they all had to eat their words.” It’s as though Emmerich is standing defiantly with a brick in his hand.