Is Emmerich’s Stonewall Movie The Worst Gay Film Ever?

by | Oct 31, 2022 | Podcast, Rainbow Popcorn | 0 comments

 

It’s the first episode of the Rainbow Popcorn Podcast. Each week, brothers Lee and Brett review a film from the annals (yes we said annals) of queer cinema and camp classics. We decided to start with Roland Emmerich’s 2015, Stonewall movie. Brett’s explained his somewhat misplaced idea behind choosing this film.

”We’re starting a gay movie podcast. Why don’t we start with what apparently started gay rights. Stonewall…. I didn’t know it was such a bad movie when I made that suggestion.”

Here’s the key points from our podcast. The links below will take you to our YouTube channel and our podcast feed. 

Each week we rate the movie on our entirely made-up PRIDE scale using categories we created to fit the acronym. A lot of work went into it trust us. Each of us gives a score out of 5 for each category and at the end of the episode, we end up with a score out of 50 for each movie. 

The categories are:

Presentation – how good the movie looks and how well it was made
Representation – how well the movie is representative of the queer community and the story it’s trying to tell
Iconicness – Is it an iconic movie? Does it feature queer icons?
Dialogue – this covers the script, the story and the actor’s portrayal of those things.
Entirety – our overall opinion of the movie as a whole. 

 

Presentation

Roland Emmerich decides to open the Stonewall movie in a documentary style. But the rest of the movie doesn’t follow along with that. If you ask anyone who’s been there or looked into the events of the Stonewall riots at all, the movie is pretty far from a factual recounting. 

Overall, we had some issues with the general look of the film. After the opening, once you get to Christopher Street, the stylised look of the film takes away from the seriousness of the events. Brett wondered whether it may have been a style choice for the movie to go from a pretty look in a time where ‘everything’s alright’ in Christopher St to a rougher, dirtier look to present the increasing sense of unrest. But it doesn’t make that change and so the choice to make the film look ‘pretty’ takes away from the seriousness of the movie. 

We rant a fair bit about just how little the movie entitled Stonewall features the factual happenings of the time, the full rant is part of the podcast but Lee summed it up with this quote. 

“If I was making a movie about the Stonewall riots, I would’ve made a movie about the Stonewall riots.” 

Emmerich has done a disservice to the actions of the people involved in the riots by centring this film around the failed love story of a twink farm boy. 

 

Representation 

“I understand distilling the stories of all of these people into a few main characters. But he didn’t make good choices… It’s very cis-white.” – Lee

When we look at what actually happened and the key figures in the actual riots, the story we see is not even close to a good representation of the story. Marsha P Johnson is a key figure in the story and she is in the Stonewall movie but that character is a far cry from the real world Marsha.  

“It’s a terrible and offensive depiction.” – Brett

When you think about how key the Stonewall riots were in the history, or the fact that were essentially the beginning, of the larger gay rights movement, the fact that this movie does not represent the events, the people, the reasons for the riots or the community involved is a big misstep

 

Iconicness 

Although these are iconic events there is a varied level of understanding about what actually happened. Like in this iconic Drag Race moment from Derrick Barry. 


Even though the real events are littered with urban myths and legends, the iconicness of this movie is pretty low. It’s an iconic event in gay history, that Emmerich has made a terrible movie about.

“It’s an iconically bad movie. People say this is the worst gay movie ever made.” – Brett

In researching the film, Lee found the following article about Roland Emmerich and it’s now one of his all-time favourite headlines which you’re sure to hear in many future episodes. “Director of Worst Gay Film Ever To Ties The Knot This Summer.

We generally don’t put much weight into Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s hard to ignore this one.

“What would you guess a bad movie gets on Rotten Tomatoes?” – Brett

“Oh like 15-20%?” – Lee

“9%” – Brett

 

Dialogue

“The dialogue is very simple and very stereotypical.”L – Lee

The laziness of the scriptwriting comes to a head at the end. Instead of writing a full conversation with a resolution between sister and almost-estranged brother we get “I’m sorry, I’m going to miss my bus.”

The exposition within the dialogue makes this heavily character-based story even more difficult to get through but when you look at Emmerich’s other films, you realise that he might never have had to tell a story through dialogue, actions, and character development. So in this movie, he has a character say I’m angry because of “society oppressing and hating us because we’re gay”.

While we have criticised the fact that this is just a story of failed love set amongst a minor scuffle between queers and police, the combination of bad dialogue and bad acting makes even the irrelevant story tacked onto the riots hard to watch. 

 

Entirety

This is generally where we dump ut our other thoughts on the film. For Stonewall we had many.

There’s no backstory about why the riots happened that night. There’s no build-up other than one fairly benign raid and one beating. Then suddenly the riots happened. Not, at least in the movie, because of an increasing amount of dissatisfaction amongst the community but because Danny was angry at his love interest when the cops arrived. 

“So the Stonewall riots happened, because a twink got cheated on.” – Lee

At the base of this movie, with a title that allegedly connects it to one of the biggest moments in modern queer history, is a love story of a pretty blonde boy. As a result, we don’t get any depth into the issues of queer people. Despite the prologue going into all of the things that are illegal for queer people in NYC, we don’t get much of that in the film. We get lots of vague references, like the moment Ray shows his one piece of clothing to the police. Lee had to look up the ‘three pieces of clothing’ rule himself in order to understand that moment. 

It’s almost as if Emmerich wanted to tell a ‘tragic’ gay love story and used the Stonewall name to get the movie through. But surely someone of the level of Roland Emmerich doesn’t need to use an iconic event to sneak this one into the studios.

The riot which went for hours on the first night, and surged up again on each of the next three nights, only takes up 15 of the 129 minutes of the film and it’s not presented well at all. And when it happened it wasn’t presented well.

“It was almost depicted, and we were meant to feel bad for the police.” – Brett

We often laugh at the summaries that we see on Google as being vague or inaccurate but in this case, we think the big G nailed it.

A drama about a fictional protagonist who interacts with fictionalized versions of some of the people in and around the riots.”

Our final thoughts were pretty damning, which shouldn’t surprise you after what you’ve read so far.

Lee: A pretty loose connection to the riots is the hook to tell a fairly standard troubled love story. It glosses over a lot of stuff and if part of the aim is to broaden awareness of the riots and the start of the gay rights movements I think it doesn’t have nearly enough depth. I would’ve preferred a movie that centred on the riots to be titled Stonewall. Make a movie about the riots, call it Stonewall. Make a movie about Danny and call it Danny on Christopher St.

Brett: ”It is a badly written badly acted, badly representative story about a very important time in gay and queer history and i found it offensive.”

Brett: “And then they dedicate it to the unsung heroes. F**k off!”

Lee: “He didn’t even do anything to validate the ‘sung’ heroes.”

 

Click the links to check us out on YouTube or to find the podcast. Follow us on the socials @rainbowpopcornpod

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