By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Film Critic
SAN FRANCISCO — There was so much hype and controversy over this film, I really expected to see something very deep and dramatic. Sadly, I was disappointed, but not by the misrepresentation of historic events and characters that had the blogosphere on fire last August. Those are Stonewall’s frivolous flaws.
The movie opens with Danny sitting in a 1969 health class watching a film about the homosexual menace. Danny (Jeremy Irving) and his lover, Joe (Karl Glusman), are giggling , Joe nervously sitting with his girlfriend. Danny and Joe are both handsome Midwestern boys and on the football team coached by Danny’s father (David Cubitt).
Coach is the kind of man that was common in the ’60s , very straight, conservative and no nonsense. The WW II generation could not understand all the societal changes going on around them. There was the sexual revolution, feminism, hippies and the anti-war movement. All these things were anathema to guys that came through the world war. Now he suspects his own son might be homosexual. His worst fears are about to come true.
Danny was caught by a couple of high school buddies giving Joe head in his car one night. The next day at school, everyone knows their secret. Joe lies and claims it was all Danny’s fault, that he got him drunk and then seduced him. After a confrontation in Coach’s office, Danny returns home to find his suitcase packed and waiting. Already accepted to Columbia, Danny heads off to New York City.
Danny makes his way to Christopher St., the location of the Stonewall Inn, and meets a group of throw-away youth. Like Danny, they’ve been forced to leave their homes because they are gay. Lacking in skills and opportunities, they survive by means of prostitution and petty theft. Here he is befriended by Ramon/Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp), a young transgender woman who takes Danny under her wing. She helps him survive until school starts in the fall.
Ed Murphy (Ron Pearlman) was the manager at the Stonewall, a Mafia-owned dive bar. He was also a pimp. Danny, young and handsome, is desired by the more prominent men in the closet. It’s alluded to that one was J. Edgar Hoover, a gay transvestite and head of the FBI. He was also a virulent persecutor of LGBT people. The story takes various twists and turns to the infamous conclusion that we all know.
Forty percent of homeless youth are in the LGBT community. This is what the film is really about, the exploitation of homeless LGBT youth. These kids in the film share an SRO hotel room, a place to crash with 12 people sleeping on the floor. They shoplift for food and of course sell their bodies to older men. Like all hookers, they’re subject to the occasional beatings, sometimes they are even murdered.
Among the earlier criticism are the lack of people of color, which really isn’t true. The main characters are mostly white, but African Americans play important roles as well. Ray, the trans woman who fancies Danny, is Puerto Rican and a major supporting character. African American Marsha P. Johnson (Otoja Abit), the gay liberation activist, plays an important role at the end. Among other complaints were the lack of lesbians at the riot, only one plus a never-seen girlfriend. Danny, a very naïve newcomer to the street, is seen throwing the stone that was the major source of the uproar.
I approached the film with an open mind. I tried to view it dispassionately as I would any movie I review. The film did have some positive messages about the early LGBT rights movement and the plight of homeless youth. Its flaws are many, though. In the hands of someone other than Roland Emmerich, it could have been a good film.
Emmerich is a prominent director of Hollywood blockbuster movies. His previous credits include the Independence Day franchise, The Patriot and a Godzilla remake. He is a creator of action/adventure sci-fi films that he does rather well. Unfortunately, he lacks the skills to make serious drama. Stonewall is a plot-driven movie, focusing on action and violence. He spends a lot of time on people and events when he should have been working on character development. The result is two-dimensional characters of the sort we see in action movies. I found it hard to care about them.
When you see a film that is “based on a true story,” it’s just that; a similar event happened, but everything else is pure conjecture. I can accept the throwing of the brick starting the riot because its real purpose is to show Danny’s anger and frustration over the way LGBT people are treated. Stonewall, the film, is a work of fiction, not a documentary.
I can’t really recommend the film, but I can’t hate it either. It’s a mediocre dramatization of “true events.”
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