‘Stonewall’ di­rec­tor Roland Em­merich de­fends choices in con­tro­ver­sial film

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

“The amount of con­tro­versy, based on a trailer, when no­body had seen the film, was strange and funny to me. But what can you do?”


Roland Em­merich, known for ac­tion­packed block­busters such as “In­de­pen­dence Day,” might not be the first name that comes to mind to di­rect a movie about the Stonewall ri­ots, which marked the launch of the mod­ern-day LGBT rights move­ment as we know it. How­ever, that didn’t pre­vent the openly gay film­maker from try­ing his hand at mak­ing such a film. Fea­tur­ing a screen­play by gay play­wright Jon Robin Baitz, Stonewall (Road­side At­trac­tions), tells the story of corn-fed Mid­west­ern boy Danny (Jeremy Irvine), ar­riv­ing in New York in June of 1969. Be­friended by trans hus­tler Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), aka Ra­mona, Danny un­der­goes a per­sonal trans­for­ma­tion to be­come not only an openly gay man, but one who takes part in the fa­mous Stonewall upris­ing. I spoke with Roland Em­merich about “Stonewall” shortly be­fore it opened in the­aters.

Ge­or­gia Voice: Do you re­mem­ber when you first be­came aware of the Stonewall ri­ots?

Roland Em­merich:

It was (when I was) in Ger­many. Ev­ery­body talked about the Stonewall Ri­ots. I knew quite a lot about it be­cause I was in­ter­ested in history.

Is there is a tar­get au­di­ence for “Stonewall”?

I made this movie, like all of my movies, for the big­gest pos­si­ble au­di­ence. I don’t think there’s a tar­get au­di­ence. It’s just for peo­ple who are in­ter­ested. When we tested the film, it was rel­a­tively bal­anced (in re­gards to) who liked the film and who didn’t like it.

Parts of “Stonewall” are set in small-town In­di­ana, where the lead char­ac­ter Danny is from. With the re­cent anti-gay ker­fuf­fle in In­di­ana, was it in­ten­tional or co­in­ci­den­tal

that Danny was from that state?

That’s co­in­ci­den­tal. The lead char­ac­ter is ac­tu­ally based on a friend of a friend.

Has that friend of a friend seen the movie?

Yes, he has seen the movie. And he likes it. Ba­si­cally, what we did first was show it to one or two ad­vi­sors that we had from the Stonewall vet­er­ans. When they liked it, ap­proved of it, I was very happy. They said that what we show and how we showed it is very ac­cu­rate.

Would you like to see “Stonewall” do for the ad­vance­ment of LGBT rights aware­ness what “Selma” did to re­new aware­ness of the ad­vance­ments of civil rights?

Sure, ab­so­lutely. That’s why we did the movie. Be­cause there are a lot of young peo­ple who have no idea that the Stonewall upris­ing/ri­ots spawned all these gay marches.

I’m glad you men­tioned young peo­ple, be­cause a num­ber of the cast mem­bers were born long af­ter the Stonewall ri­ots oc­curred. Did any of them have an aware­ness of the events of June 28, 1969, and their sig­nif­i­cance to con­tem­po­rary LGBT cul­ture?

Some of them had and some didn’t. Most of the time it’s shock­ing for me that LGBT kids don’t know about it. In gen­eral, we had a smart cast, although one or the other had no clue that this event took place.

Were there books or other re­sources that you rec­om­mended to them so that they could be­come more fa­mil­iar with the sub­ject?

Yes, we gave ev­ery­body a read­ing list. It’s one thing to read a book. We also found one or two or three Stonewall vet­er­ans and we asked them to help us. Some talked (to cast mem­bers) by phone, some in per­son, to tell them about the times, what mu­sic they lis­tened to, how they felt. Just to get a lit­tle bit of a feel that you can’t get out of books.

One was Martin Boyce. There were sev­eral.

The char­ac­ters in the film are a blend of real (such as Mar­sha P. John­son, Bob Kohler and Frank Ka­meny) and fic­tional peo­ple. Please say some­thing about the choice to blend those sto­ries.

That’s the pe­cu­liar thing about the Stonewall ri­ots. A lot of peo­ple take credit, but it’s very murky. One thing is very clear—it was a lot of the home­less kids that did it. And they’re name­less. It’s all very vague. I didn’t want to make it a star-driven movie. I was set on telling the sto­ries of these un­sung he-

Who were some of the vet­er­ans?

roes. Nat­u­rally, we re­al­ized that we had to have some his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters. When you talk about Stonewall, you can’t not talk about Mar­sha P. John­son or Bob Kohler or Frank Ka­meny or Ed Mur­phy. We even based some of our fic­tional char­ac­ters on fa­mous peo­ple such as Sylvia Rivera. It was cool, in a way, for us to mix his­tor­i­cal facts with fic­tional ones.

Not re­ally [laughs]. I’ve al­ways said that it will be in­ter­est­ing to see what hap­pens. The amount of con­tro­versy, based on a trailer, when no­body had seen the film, was strange and funny to me. But what can you do? It would have been dif­fer­ent if they re­acted that way af­ter hav­ing seen the movie [laughs], not based on the trailer.

Gay films have a history of con­tro­versy not just among straight peo­ple but also within the gay com­mu­nity it­self. I’m think­ing specif­i­cally of “The Boys In the Band” and “Cruis­ing.” Were you pre­pared for the con­tro­versy that arose around “Stonewall”?

Fi­nally, Roland, have you started work­ing on or think­ing about your next film?

I’ve al­ready shot my next film. It’s called “In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence.” It’s a se­quel to “In­de­pen­dence Day.” It comes out next sum­mer.

Roland Em­merich (Photo by Claudette Barius)

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