There was a huge amount of controversy and calls for a boycott following the release of the trailer for Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall, due to the fact it made it look like the whole thing was solely about a cisgender, young, pretty, white guy, and that it would therefore remove the key contribution of trans and people of color to the 1969 riots.
However, others said that as it was just trailer, it might be best to wait until the entire film had been screened. Now it’s recieved it premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and if the first reviews are to be believed, the movie isn’t the triumph its director might have hoped.
In a Guardian review titled ‘There’s a riot going on! Pity Roland Emmerich missed it’, Henry Barnes writes, ‘It’s still difficult for gay cinema to pass into the mainstream. Emmerich, who put his own money into making the film, should be cheered for giving it a shot. Unfortunately the compromises he’s made leave Stonewall feeling neutered. A member of the Mattachine Society makes a speech about how gay men should assimilate. “Wearing a suit and tie will make them realise they’re just like you,” he says. Stonewall tries the same trick. By trying to disguise itself as a coming-of-age romance, it hides the real story underneath.’
Henry DeBruge in Variety, isn’t much more postive, saying ‘While it’s encouraging to see such a subject treated with the same grandiosity afforded alien invasions, particularly at a moment when gay rights hold such currency, representation-starved audiences deserve more than this problematic collection of stereotypes, which lacks the galvanizing power of such recent we-shall-overcome triumphs as “Selma” or “Milk,” and won’t draw anywhere near their numbers.’
In The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney is a bit more of a fan, although he certainly doesn’t give the movie a rave, saying, ‘While Stonewall hits every obvious, manipulative button with a forceful hand, it’s also consistently engaging, relating experiences grounded in the turbulent past that should resonate for many in our more complacent present.’
As for the question of how the movie treat people of color and trans characters, he notes, ‘Diversity representation mostly functions as colorful window-dressing, with notes of humor pretty much confined to routine sassy attitude, and when the riot starts, the Wonder Bread lead gets to throw the first brick. But the secondary characters are treated with affection and respect, and far from sidelined during the climactic clash.’
John Hazelton in Screen Daily also find issues with the movie, saying ‘Stonewall almost lets its tale of a young gay man finding his way in New York City overshadow its account of the 1969 riots that give the film its title and led to the birth of the gay liberation movement. That might not have mattered if the personal story had been more satisfying, but as it is this passion project from blockbuster director Roland Emmerich… feels like a strangely squandered opportunity.’
The Playlist meanwhile doesn’t mince its words, saying, ‘While Emmerich’s intentions may be pure, he lacks the delicacy, intelligence, and skill to do right by a premise rife with potential for disaster — a topic in which the man is all too well-versed… The insulting obviousness with which characters make declarations about the Change That Must Come and the Injustice That Has Been Suffered For Too Long strip the film of any potential for resonant poignance with its intended audience. Emmerich’s freedom fighters speak not like human beings, but political mouthpieces designed to express the simplest ideas for the simplest-minded audiences.’
It certainly doesn’t bode well for the film, which was already facing controversy and resistance. However Emmerich’s career has been marked by getting unfavourable reviews (for films such as 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow) and yet making money at the box office, so he’ll be hoping for the same when the film reaches US cinemas later this week.