Stonewall's Box Office Bomb is Hollywood's Wake-Up Call
Watch out, Hollywood, because moviegoers have spoken, and trans misreprentation and whitewashing are now as outdated as the bedazzled True Religion shirts you can find sagging on hangers in the back of your local thrift store. This past weekend saw the release of Roland Emmerich’s new film Stonewall, a film that ignores real LGBT heroes in favor of a fictional cis white fuckboy named Danny Winters from Kansas — we outlined the grossness of this decision here. The director may be famous for classic apocalypse films like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, but this retelling of the birth of the contemporary gay rights movement in the Stonewall Riots of ’69 may be his biggest disaster yet.
Amidst a perfect storm of bad reviews, dozens of think pieces on trans erasure and whitewashing, and a particularly scathing boycott of the film that drew thousands of signatures, the film was expected to debut to low box office expectations — a crash and burn seemed inevitable. The fires that peppered the streets outside the Stonewall Inn in after the riots were no match for the epic crash, burn, explosion, and dragging of Stonewall by critics and audience. Sitting ugly with a 10% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the historically inaccurate film grossed a grand total of $112,414 over its opening weekend in 129 theaters. Using a bit of math to break it down further, that translates to a per-theater average of $871—or 107 people per theater. You can find more people at a Sunday afternoon bingo session or on the 14th Street subway stop in the morning.
The film was problematic from the start because of Emmerich’s insistence on having an imaginary white cis gay guy lead the narrative about the riots, instead of an established Stonewall hero like Marsha P. Johnson. But don’t worry, because according to the director, the decision to have a white cis lead was intentional. In one of those classic damage control interviews — which always just end up throwing a bottle of lighter fluid on the fire and scorching off all your facial hair –Emmerich explained to Buzzfeed that Danny was a suitable lead character because he’s approachable in a way someone like the black trans queen Johnson apparently isn’t.
“You have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people,” he said. “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. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him.”
No, you did not read that wrong. It’s not clear where the test audience was during the film’s box office debut, but clearly straight and gay audiences were not here for another straightwashed and cis-centric story. As we move as far away from the sad burning remnants of the film’s box office disaster as we can, we hope this will be a lesson for Hollywood: audiences are ready for more diversity and representation of marginalized identities in the film industry.