Review: Stonewall – Then and now, we deserved better

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

PinkNews reviews Roland Emmerich’s controversial new film, in which he attempts to capture the true significance of the infamous 1969 riots – and fails.

Stonewall. In less than a half century since the 1969 riots, the word has become synonymous worldwide with ideals such as freedom, human rights, and equality.

Blink, and you very well might miss this point in Roland Emmerich’s tepid portrayal of the raucous series of events that changed our history.

Review: Stonewall – Then and now, we deserved better

Jeremy Irvine plays Danny, a good-natured kid from Indiana who finds himself at 7th Avenue and Christopher Street after getting caught engaging in a sexual act with his high school’s star football player.

Alone and homeless, he is quick to allow Ray (Jonny Beauchamp) to take him under his wing and begin showing him how to survive in the big city.

What follows is a character-driven story of a young man seeking to belong in a largely inhospitable society, which allows us to vividly see the struggles of the LGBT youth who have been abandoned by their loved ones — an issue that persists today.

It is this humanisation of LGBT people that is perhaps the film’s strongest feature.

When two policemen gratuitously beat up and attempt to sexually assault Danny, it is difficult not to scoff at their injustice and hypocrisy. When a trick leaves Ray bruised and bleeding, one cannot help but wonder where his mother is so she can comfort him.

Review: Stonewall – Then and now, we deserved better

Nonetheless, it is in telling the story through the eyes of an outsider that the film not only loses sight of the meaning of Stonewall, it adds to the differences that divide us.

Danny is masculine whereas his friends are feminine; he is handsome whereas his friends almost look like freaks; he is educated whereas his friends have been out of school for years; he works at a store whereas his friends turn tricks for money; he maintains family contact whereas his friends’ families are completely out of the picture, and he is white whereas his friends are black and Hispanic.

When the riots finally begin (somewhat anti-climatically), it is easy to misinterpret them as nothing more than the temper tantrum of a relatively privileged young man.

After all, it is Danny who throws the first brick, tired of having to be back on the streets because the guy he was living with was cheating on him.

Yes, Danny had also been shunned by his parents and suffered a police beating, but in the three months he has in the Village before the riots, he remains a visitor. He maintains his agency, his ability to have some choice in his life trajectory.

Review: Stonewall – Then and now, we deserved better

Yet Stonewall is precisely about the opposite: it is about a group of people subjugated to second-class citizen status fighting for their civil freedoms and ability to direct their lives.

When Ray tells Danny after the riots that everything is different now, Danny cannot understand. The significance of the riots is lost in him.

Instead, his response to Ray is that he has to leave and that he cannot ever love him because they are too different. And leave he does, to Columbia, not understanding that the events in which he had just participated would benefit him more than Ray.

Our recommendation: watch for its honest portrayal of some of our community’s past and present struggles. Skip it because it loses sight of the significance of the riots, for the mostly nonsensical storyline, and for Irvine’s monotone portrayal of a poorly conceived character.

Review: Stonewall – Then and now, we deserved better