No love has been lost between "Stonewall" and activists. And it looks like critics don’t care much for the gay rights film, either.
"Stonewall," which opens in wide-release across Canada on Friday, has scored a 10 per cent from critics' reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, sharing the same score with Adam Sandler's Grown Ups.
However, it’s also garnered a 98 per cent audience approval rating from more than 2,300 moviegoers. This disparity suggests some audiences can relate to the controversial film, despite outcry from those who say it’s a technically bad, soundstaged catastrophe and a gross misrepresentation of a pivotal moment in LGBT history.
Most recently under fire is director Roland Emmerich’s explanation of his decision to recast the events of the 1969 Stonewall riots and place a white, cisgender male, Danny (played by actor Jeremy Irvine), as the centre of the movie’s narrative, when trans women and people of colour were at the forefront of the actual uprising.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Emmerich, who is gay, said he “didn’t make this film only for gay people … made it also for straight people."
“I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny] is a very easy in. Danny’s very straight-acting,” Emmerich said. “He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him.”
Straight-acting is a term that suggests an LBGTQ person is behaving in ways that are perceived as straight and not queer.
That Emmerich thinks this is acceptable makes him ignorant or — in no uncertain terms — an asshole, writes Huffington Post editorial director Noah Michelson.
While far from a perfect representation, trans people are increasingly part of pop culture, and audiences aren't shying away, with Laverne Cox’s breakout role in "Orange Is The New Black" lauded as revolutionary and Caitlyn Jenner gracing magazine covers all summer. TV series "Transparent" encapsulates this success with five Emmy wins last weekend. To top it off, lead actor Jeffrey Tambor’s acceptance speech illustrates how far public perception of the transgender community has come.
“Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for our inspiration,” Tambor, a cis actor, said to the trans community.
The community, however, still faces almost 30 per cent more violence than everyone else, reports GLAAD. As hate crimes against gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals have dropped, homicides of trans people have risen. And even the screenings of "Stonewall" have not been without incident.
Stonewall had its international premiere at the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sept. 18, with a line of hundreds stretching around Roy Thomson Hall. Four protesters were present at the opening, with trans women using a megaphone to yell, “'Stonewall' is ciswashing and whitewashing our history.”
Protesters Danielle Waters and Abuzar Chaudhary allege some in line told them to “kill themselves” and “you should be ashamed,” then tried to get the entire crowd to physically assault them.
Daily Xtra filmmaker, Kevin O’Keefe, who was there and recording, confirmed that protesters were told to commit suicide and caught this on film.
Chaudhary, a trans woman of colour, co-organized the protest. For her, Stonewall’s history mirrors her struggles and the violent threats from moviegoers were “painful to see.”
“It was like entertainment for them,” Chaudhary said. “It was objectifying our community and what was happening to us, it felt like they didn’t have any hearts. “
Waters and Chaudhary co-organized the event after seeing "Stonewall"’s trailer and its critiques in August. They decided it was an opportunity to remind people that their money could be going to better causes and their time towards volunteering in building trans and queer communities.
At one point, Chaudhary says a man grabbed her arm and tried to drag her. That’s when a police officer intervened, by walking the man to the margins away from the protesters.
“There’s more of them than there is of you,” a security guard told Waters.
LGBT "Stonewall" actors Vladimir Alexis and Joanne Vannicola spoke with Huffington Post Canada in an interview after Stonewall’s premiere.
Vannicola was shocked after hearing what line attendees had shouted at protesters. In "Stonewall" she played Sam, a lesbian who is based on the woman who historically screamed for action at Stonewall while being arrested by police, causing fights to erupt.
Alexis, who played transgender activist Queen Cong in "Stonewall," called for peace.
“First of all, I don’t want no violence done towards nobody,” he told Huffington Post Canada. “I think everyone’s entitled to their own opinion… I do wish that everybody at least gets a chance to watch the movie and then have an open conversation.”
The point of Stonewall wasn’t who threw the first brick, Alexis said. It was about collective work.
But Vannicola criticized protesters for their “misplaced rage”, saying the LGBT community doesn’t do any justice by trying to go after LGBT filmmakers.
“The energy and rage of the youth generation is absolutely important, but it needs to be directed in the right place,” Vannicola said. “Go after Republicans, go after Conservatives, go after people trying to deny us our rights.”
For Chaudhary, attitudes like these and "Stonewall" moviegoers illustrated a community at odds.
“Now that trans issues are getting popular, opportunists can step in, and doing it in a way that totally whitewashes and erases us,” Chaudhary said. “They [moviegoers] were standing in line to watch this movie about Stonewall and not realizing that the riots were about people surviving, like trans marginalized people actually fighting to survive.”
In a statement on behalf of Jennifer Bell, TIFF’s vice-president of communications, the film festival said: “TIFF held two public screenings of "Stonewall" during the final days of the Festival and both were enthusiastically and warmly received by our audiences.”
Stonewall opens in theatres today across North America.
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