This year has been very momentous for the LGBT community, with marriage equality becoming the law of the land and non-discrimination ordinances protecting more and more Americans than ever before. People like Caitlyn Jenner have shown us a unique brand of courage, while the Kim Davises and Mike Huckabee’s of the world are no longer calling the shots. This is the perfect year for us to reflect on our history and where our movement began. This is the time for a movie like “Stonewall.”
To start out the movie, Emmerich created a fictional character, Danny Winters (played by Jeremy Irvine), who came into the city after being disowned by his parents. From there, he took great care to interweave the fictional character’s interactions with the people who were already in the city and played big roles in the riots. One character, Ray/Ramona (played by Jonny Beauchamp) is actually a composite character based on two separate people who were present during the riots: Ray Castro, a baker, and Sylvia Rivera, a street kid-turned-activist.
According to Hotspots Associate Publisher, Scott Holland, “The movie is extremely powerful, but what makes the movie is the casting and the chemistry of Jeremy Irvine and Jonny Beauchamp. They become their characters, and I couldn’t look away from the screen”
With the help of Jon Robin Baitz, Emmerich crafted each character carefully. “[Many of them] were street kids with nothing to lose, rejected at the fringes of American society, completely outside of conformity. That’s what makes them come alive in my opinion,” said Mark Frydman.
Throughout his extensive research, Emmerich pieced together stories from survivors and struggled to put together a clear narrative, as each survivor’s story was from a different vantage point, and many were not actually present at the riots (but were in the city at that same time). “In essence nobody really knew or knows today who started [the riot],” says Emmerich. “Different people have different names for the person who started it all by resisting and that was really the starting point of the riots…It was a super-hot night. It was a Friday night going into Saturday, so it was the weekend and that helped to create this explosive atmosphere, which then ended up being a riot.”
Emmerich describes the film as a mix of history and coming-of-age stories. The creation of the character of Danny is perfectly woven into the Stonewall Storyline. Danny really hit home for Ian Maloney (Associate Publisher of Genre Latino Mag) who really identified with the character. “Having grown up in small town USA, there were very few gay people to look up to. Hopefully this movie can serve that purpose for the young LGBT kids who are looking for anyone who is like they are.”
Some actors flocked to the film on their own, such as Otoja Abit, who plays the iconic activist Marsha P. Johnson. After requesting an audition, he won the role. He took care to do a lot of research on Marsha’s life, down to her mannerisms and her voice.
Director and producer Roland Emmerich, best known for his work on blockbuster end-of-the-world films such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, decided he wanted to pursue producing a movie about the Stonewall Riots after he visited the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center, where he learned that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Producer Mark Frydman said that Emmerich wanted to wait for the right time to retell this story. “The second inaugural speech of Obama listed, with this beautiful alliteration, Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall, and within a minute I got a text from Roland saying ‘We’re doing it.'”
Even though many bigwigs in Hollywood were afraid of associating themselves with an LGBT-themed film, Emmerich and his fellow producers were undeterred. Not only did Emmerich believe in the film so much that he offered to take the lowest salary possible as dictated by the Directors’ Guild of America, he ended up putting a lot of his own money into the making of the film. That, in turn, inspired others to lend a hand. “There were a number of people who reached out when we went into production who wanted to get involved in any shape or form because they thought this was a very important story to tell,” said Michael Fossat, another producer on the film.
Emmerich immersed himself in the historic events that happened in New York City back in June 1969 and found himself thoroughly inspired. “Stonewall was the first time gay people stood up and they did it in their own way. Something that really affected me when I read about Stonewall was that when the riot police showed up in their long line, these kids formed their own long line and sang a raunchy song. That, for me, was a gay riot, a gay rebellion,” Emmerich said. “The problem then was the same problem we still have today. Kids who grow up in religious homes, in conservative homes, have a hard time coming out. If they come out, they get thrown out of their homes, which to me was unthinkable. Where I come from, with my family that would have never happened. So that was the starting point. Why not create a character that goes through that, who comes to New York and befriends these kids?”
“Stonewall” received a lot of press this summer after a trailer was released, and it was perceived by many that the story had been “whitewashed” and that transgender people were absent. As more information was released about the film, it became evident that a number of characters in the film are drag queens and/or transgender people. “Despite the controversy surrounding the film earlier this summer, and criticism from some of the gay community, Stonewall tells a story that many of us have been thirsting for, a story that has never been told to a nationwide audience before” said Ian Maloney.
“Stonewall is a must see movie for every gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, or any person that has ever been discriminated against. If we don’t educate our youth on the Stonewall Riots and our history, then we take the chance of it happening again. Education and knowledge is POWER!” Scott Holland.
Stonewall can be seen in theaters nationwide beginning Friday, September 25. Follow the conversation online by liking their Facebook page at facebook.com/stonewallmovie.