Cinema-Maniac: Stonewall (2015)

In the early hours of June 28, 1968, began a series of violent demonstration by members of the LGBT community in Manhattan, New York City at the Stonewall Inn. These riots are the most famous, and often cited as the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement. Since the movie itself, even if taken as a work of pure fiction, doesn’t provide context for the significance of the Stonewall riots. Before Stonewall riots, incidents like the Portland Vice Scandal which basically forced sexual sterilization laws in Portland when nineteen-year-old Benjamin Trout revealed details about homosexual activity in the city. This would lead to police probing around the local area arresting anyone for simply being gay, or doing anything resembling gay activity. This was also many in the US first learned about homosexuality, and thus many profession would simply be able to fire you for being gay.

During one of the movie’s many misguided scene a character talks about serving in the Navy completely missing the opportunity to provide insight on history. For some reason, the scene doesn’t bother to even mention the mere existence of something called The Blue Discharge. What this basically did was get rid off gay soldiers, and stated in the GI Bill anyone with a Blue Discharge couldn’t receive any benefits during world war one, and world war two. Homosexuals had it rough during this era, but unfortunately something called the Red Scare post world war two included homosexuals on that list with this second wave being called the Lavender Scare. Assumed by many during the 1950s that homosexuals were more susceptible to blackmail. Ever met a person who thought the FBI, or government was after them? Well, if they were homosexual during the 1950s that’s exactly happened. The collective impact of these events would last decades, and wouldn’t be until the Stonewall riot that a swift in gay rights was reaching a turning point for gaining the rights they so desired.

This streamlined history of what homosexuals suffer before Stonewall is obviously too much for one movie cram into a single feature. However, it’s not impossible to provide some level of insight of these events, and the impact they made on society. A brief sequence, or snippets of dialogue dedicated to illustrating the pent up frustration some felt about this unfair treatment would have suffice. The Stonewall riot is set the piece were some finally had enough of being mistreated, and stood up for themselves. Sadly, you’ll learn more in these previous paragraphs about the significance the Stonewall riot than you will watching this movie. That is just sad on so many level. Only thing possibly sadder than that is simply calling this a bad movie ain’t doing justice how incompetent it is on nearly every conceivable level. Here’s a head scratcher before I go into the actual movie, apparently this was director Roland Emmerich passion project. You know, the director of Mel Gibson’s The Patriot (2000), and 10,000 BC (2008) which are consider some of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made.

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Brace yourself, it’s going to be a long one.

Stonewall follows the fictitious character of Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine), a small town teenager outcasted in Indiana by his own father moving to New York in the months leading up the Stonewall Inn riots. For starter, Danny is purely a work of fiction, and using him as surrogate is fine to establish the treatment society gave to homosexual during that time. However, that’s about all it gets right on that front, and even then it doesn’t go into details how badly homosexuals had it during this time. I already mentioned a few examples in my previous paragraphs so I’ll skip the rehash here. I will add that before we see any homosexuals receive any beating from police officers; Danny first introduction to Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), and his group by a multiracial group of young, gay, and genderfluid street kids and drag queens vandalizing the neighborhood! Why would the film thought you would sympathize with a group of teens, regardless of sexual orientation, and what they identify as, whom throw a brick at a store to steal a hat, and go out disrupting people in the neighborhood is beyond me. Forget the fact they’re homosexuals, if this is how Ray, and his friends regularly act no wonder nobody likes them.

With Danny being our lead character it means actual characters based around actual activists during this time get sideline in favor of a coming of age, and young love storyline. A questionable decision cemented in the fact that those fictional portions of the movie are terrible. Exploration of Danny coming to terms with his sexuality is absent from the film. He goes from being ashamed of it to embracing his sexuality just like that. There’s little to talk about Danny character in any tangible form. It relies too much on the idea of the era, and how those in the LGBT community were treated to bother developing its characters. Danny comes off more like Roland Emmerich self inserting himself into Danny, and being the one who started the Stonewall riots. A significant event in the movie that isn’t impactful; Danny, nor the audience know the true length politics held back LGBT people, and simply claiming it was bad during this time isn’t good enough when it think it’s a important film. There’s also Danny highschool love, which the audience doesn’t get to see blossom. Therefore, making it’s bittersweet message in the movie bring hollow since, you guessed it, hardly appears in the movie. 

When it comes to depicting romance this movie fails in that too. Every person Danny falls in love with are poorly defined as individual characters. Ray for instance, a love interest that Danny can’t love (Danny says this himself) is tonal whiplash. One scene has him crying to Danny telling him about how he got a beating, and how things won’t seem like they’ll ever change. Next scene, Ray wakes up getting angry at Danny for finding a flyer for a gay rights meeting in Danny pocket. Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is another one of these love interest with a confusing portrayal. Part of the blame can be taken by the bad direction, but in terms of writing he didn’t come off as unreasonable. Sure, Trevor cheating on him is justified in Danny hating him, but at the same time that’s about it. The relationship is so spontaneous, and rushed through feeling sorry for Danny is impossible. Trevor is established to be fighting for gay rights since his introduction, and all Danny cares about is his heart got broken despite the fact he experienced, and witness first hand the LGBT community face!

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This movie in one still; it’s not pretty to look at

Leading into Danny is boring. He doesn’t take an interest in the political side of gay rights rendering whatever mention of activism purely be lip service. All he seems to care about is making a good life for himself. As a badly written character you won’t know what he aspired to become, nor understand how heart he is that he seemingly can’t patch things up with his Christian father. Reminding me of another plot point. One of the few defining traits of Danny is he loves his family, but the movie hardly shows him communicating to them. Being more wrapped up in the events of New York, and finding other like him. This becomes a bigger issue in the ending when Danny’s mother shows up to a gay pride march when she didn’t speak much to her own son. You know, possibly using Danny mother to get across that acceptance is slow, but can come.

Now the biggest nail in the coffin for Danny is the film gives him the first throw in Stonewall shouting “Gay Power!”. A fictitious character who mostly mopes around about a broken hearts takes away something that real people experience by giving the first brick throw to him. This wouldn’t be an issue if some of the film’s characters weren’t based around real people. Instead of being empowering, it comes across as pure cheese, and at worst possible insult that a teenage boy started a riot that would be the big push towards gay right all because he was sexually frustrated.

On top of a terrible leading character, the film writing has characters that disappear for long periods of time. Only bringing them back when it’s stuck to generate conflict in an artificial way despite the fact the movie is based around true events. One of these character is Ed Murphy (Ron Pearlman, I’m shocked too) is just bad, and that’s about it. He appears in one scene, disappears, and sells Danny into sex slave. A topic that isn’t explored either among the other number things that aren’t explored.

If I even bother to break apart the many aspects of history it gets wrong there would be no feasible end in sight. I will pick on the fact Danny sister is happily accepting that her brother is gay. It’s the 1960s, and homophobia is rampant during this time. The most exposure that Danny’s sister would get of homosexuals would be primarily negative. Maybe Danny told his sister he was gay when he was younger, but no such thing exist, even in throwaway dialogue!

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One of the many joyful scenes of police brutality. Physical abuse is the main way this movie can generate sympathy.

It’s much quicker to run down it gets accurate like the sex work depiction that did happen, and the mention of mafias owning bars serving gay people is right. However, the whole sex slave plot point is pointless as it contributes nothing to the actual movie. It does have activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Bob Kohler, and Frank Kameny in the movie, but more as decorations than important characters. Downplaying their roles in gay rights activism, and relegating what their did into a brief text crawl at the end.

The closest the film ever gets to being humanized is a brief scene where Ray sleeps next to Danny in a crowded apartment. Ray goes on about a better life for them, and Danny pretends to be sleeping smiling of such prospect. It’s the most subtle the movie ever gets. Just one scene in a movie that slightly goes over two hours! Filled with stereotypes of LGBT of all being negatively flamboyant, or obnoxious. Doing just about nothing in that time to make viewer understand them. As a pure work of fiction it’s simplistic depiction of complicated real world issues works against it. Discrimination that LGBT people face, and the battle they face to get their rights is something that needs a mindful approach. Not just a “people mistreat us! Let’s riot, and we get our rights!” approach which is sadly an accurate way to summarize this movie. When taken as a historical film, well, mentioned earlier, simply implying the Stonewall one riot automatically gave LGBT their rights in the US is astonishingly stupid! It glosses over so many facts you’re simply better off reading books, or watching documentary on the subject of gay rights. This movie doesn’t understand what makes a good story in a fictitious sense so entrusting it to discuss real world issues beyond some minor details is beyond its capability.

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Gay power! Or attempted murder. Both work.

On a technical side it doesn’t fare any better either. Roland Emmerich is insecure about his direction that it’s difficult to read what exactly he wants the audience to feel. For instance, it would be nice to actually see Jeremy Irvine who portrays Danny to actually show him be comfortable sexually. Nearly all of Jeremy Irvine sexual encounters is played off as tragic. Inadvertently implying homosexuality is a something bad instead of a part of a person that feels natural to them.

His biggest misjudgment is his representation of LGBT characters. With the exception of Jeremy Irvine, every actor is either the stereotype flamboyant gay person, or evil. Having his actors overact every scene. Leaving no room for substance, especially the opening text that is meant to establish a harsh mood, but doesn’t because of the over acting. The color filtered makes things either too dark, or too yellow. Emmerich is unable to hide the cheap look of his sound stage. This one block in the movie is simply filmed in different angle, and takes you out of the illusion. Music choices are fine, but don’t do anything special. The original on the other hand, lack subtlety in its bomb static sound. As for the riot itself it’s pretty lame to see. Police push forward, and LGBT people slowly back off. That’s basically all that happens in the riot. Cars, and windows are destroyed I presume because of the sound effects, but this portion of the movie is poorly done.

Stonewall is a cinematic that gets nothing. As a work fiction it’s too simplistic on discussing complicated issues with poorly defined characters. As a historical film it gets so many things wrong viewers will leave with possibly less understanding on the significant on the Stonewall riot. It’s a movie that is meant to appeal to everyone, but will end up satisfying no one except for Emmerich who inserts himself into the lead character. There’s history worth remembering, and being proud off, yet this movie does everything it can to not capture that. Failing to understand people, the community it represents, and the history behind it.

Rating: 0/10

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