Roland Emmerich's take on LGBT rights history, Stonewall, was fraught with controversy. Critics dogpiled on the film, saying it whitewashed the movement, such as by making significant non-white figures merely minor characters, and savaged it with negative reviews. The film, about riots that were a turning point in LGBT history, basically stirred up an online riot itself.
Consequently, although the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, it never received a theatrical run.
However, viewers can make can now make their own assessment of the film as it's being released on DVD and VOD this week.
British actor Jeremy Irvine took on the film's lead role of Danny, a gay youth who has to leave his home in rural Alabama in the 1960s after he's discovered to be gay. Upon reaching New York City, Danny falls in with a group of homeless LGBT street kids who become a part of the Stonewall riots, an uprising against police raids on LGBT establishments. The riots became a pivotal point in the LGBT rights movement as activist organization rose up in their aftermath.
Irvine, in a call from Toronto, says he was in pieces after reading script the first time.
"It was all sort of brought home by the fact that at the end of the script, which just said that 40 percent of the homeless youth today relate to being LGBT," he tells the Georgia Straight. "That is such a disproportionate portion of the population. I just found that so shocking and it just kind of brought home how relevant this movie is today."
While LGBT issues are covered in the media, LGBT history isn't taught in many high schools, leading to limited understanding about it.
"I knew a bit but as soon as I started really researching about this movement I was kind of shocked and ashamed at how little I knew," he says. "If this movie can help get awareness out to a larger audience and get it more in our public consciousness, then that's only a good thing."
He says he was shocked to learn "things like…that it was illegal to serve a drink to a homosexual in New York—illegal—and there was the three-items-of-clothing rule, if a woman was caught with more than three items of male clothing on then she'd be arrested….It's no wonder that these kids just decided that they'd had enough and just rebelled."
With Pride parades being ubiquitous in almost every North American city, it's easy to take LGBT rights and acceptance for granted these days.
"Personally I think they should be able to take it for granted, in a way," Irvine says with a laugh. "I mean, you should be able to just be who you are. But yeah, it's important to remember that there was a time when that wasn't the case. What's amazing is that it really wasn't that long ago. We're only talking 40, 50 years ago. So well within one generation. So I think it's good that we've come so far. I also think there's a way to go."
Costar Johnny Beauchamp, who plays the feisty genderfluid Ray/Ramona, graduated with a BFA in theatre performance but also minored in gender and sexuality studies. Consequently, he was aware of Stonewall riots. Nonetheless, he says he still learned a great deal from working on the film.
In particular, Beauchamp says by phone that he was impressed with how his character was unashamed to be herself considering the prevailing sentiments of the time.
"Ray was unapologetically Ray all the time, whether it was Ray or Ramona, it didn't matter, and in a time when it wasn't in vogue to be yourself in that way and to speak out against injustice at any given moment," he says. "I think so often today people decide you have to be one thing all the time."
In balancing Ray/Ramona's tough exterior with an idealistic side that shines through in moments of emotional vulnerability, Beauchamp says he drew upon the idea that they were all living their lives "not having any options" and were simply just trying to eke out a living.
"I think that's very much a part of survival is being in your face and being aggressive and showing your strength so that people don't mess with you," he says. "But at the same time, every day is a struggle. And you're just trying to make it tomorrow."
In addition to telling the tale of street survival and LGBT rights, Irvine says the coming-of-age movie focuses on a universal story that everyone can relate to, no matter what their identity is.
"A lot of this movie's about people becoming comfortable with who they are and being able to be who they are, which certainly my character has to go through, going through the stages of denial and finally acceptance," he says. "I don't think you have to be necessarily gay or transgender to relate that feeling of not quite being yourself yet. We've all gone through that at some point."