If early reviews and social media conversation about Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” were any indication, the film’s poor box-office performance this weekend was expected. Vanity Fair called the movie “terribly offensive, and offensively terrible,” while The Times said it “shortchanges [the] pivotal gay rights moment.” Many on social media added their thoughts using the trash can emoji to express their disdain.
But the film’s co-lead, Jonny Beauchamp, defends the product he helped create.
“To be honest, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about [what happened at] Stonewall,” Beauchamp said recently. “A lot of things about the Stonewall riots are not really fleshed out. The one thing everyone agrees upon is that everything was really ignited by a lesbian being dragged out by five or six police officers. That’s how things got kicked off, and that is in [the film].”
“Stonewall” is a story of the 1969 riots by New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, seen through the eyes of Danny, a fictional white character (Jeremy Irvine) who moves to New York after being kicked out of his Midwestern home by an unsupportive family.
By featuring the fictional character as the main instigator of the riots — though most accepted accounts attribute that role to drag queens, street kids and transgender women of color — online backlash accused the film of erasing an already marginalized minority within the LGBT community.
An online petition calling for a boycott of the picture seems to have had an effect, with “Stonewall” pulling in only $112,414 in its first weekend. That’s an average of $871 per screen of the 129 screens in its limited release, according to box-office figures.
Beauchamp understands the objections but believes the film is true to the spirit of the time. He fought to get the role of Ray/Ramona, a composite character based on real-life activists Ray Castro and Sylvia Rivera.
“I was just so desperate,” Beauchamp said. “I felt a responsibility to tell this story because I felt like no one could tell it like I could. It had been in me for so long, and this was my one chance.”
The Bronx-born actor was first introduced to Rivera’s story while writing a 25-page paper on transgender discrimination in high school. He then went on to complete two years at Marymount Manhattan College in theater performance and gender and sexuality studies.
When the opportunity came to audition for Emmerich, this background and music he had downloaded said to have been in the Stonewall Inn jukebox helped him to channel his character — “The Marvelettes for the feeling, the unrequited love; the Shangri-Las to be tough; the Supremes for finesse and feeling like a mature woman; and the Chiffons for fun,” he said.
Beauchamp’s performance is one of the few things that even critics of the film agree stands out, and the actor appreciates the recognition. Additionally, he sees another positive note from the attention — good and bad — “Stonewall” has received.
“I have heard more dialogue and more discussions about the Stonewall riots now than ever before,” he said. “I have never heard the names Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson more from white cisgender males, heterosexual women, white people, even from [some in] the gay community. These were radical freedom fighters, and they are known and loved, but not on this scale. If this spawned that dialogue and a demand for these stories and these people to be seen and this kind of visibility, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Emmerich responded to the criticism in a Facebook post.
“When this film — which is truly a labor of love for me — finally comes to theaters, audiences will see that it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there,” he wrote.
He continued, telling BuzzFeed just days before the release date, that “you have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people.”
Beauchamp noted that Emmerich had problems getting financing for the film. “Roland put his own money into get this done,” the actor noted. “That says something. He didn’t have to make this movie. He wanted to.”
Beauchamp said he hopes the film will encourage people to begin discussing the estimated 40% of homeless youth who identify as LGBT.
“That’s the real catalyst for this movie,” Beauchamp said. “The Stonewall is a thrilling, amazing backdrop, but the movie is really a call to arms that it’s 2015 and [these problems] still exist.”