Stonewall tanked at the box office, and that’s awesome

Stonewall brought in a miniscule $112,441 from 127 theaters. That’s an average of $871 per location. Seriously, that’s about as close to “no one watched this” as I’ve ever seen. Gigli, often regarded as one of the worst films ever, made double that with $1694 per theater. GIGLI! Normally, I would be a little bit sad about an LGBTQ themed movie doing so poorly, but I can’t even be upset about this.

Stonewall experienced a barrage of criticism for whitewashing and ciswashing the historic event of the Stonewall Riots. Miss Major was no where, Sylvia Rivera was reduced to a fictional character who functioned as a composite of different historical figures, and some white dude named Danny was the star of the show. The bizarre interview director Roland Emmerich gave to Buzzfeed did not help the film, instead showcasing just how misguided the director is. A mess.

But this isn’t just about reveling in the fact that Stonewall got exactly what it deserved, as fun as that is. The criticism surrounding this film has centered on the altered history, and it’s not always coming from the radical internet. From the New York Times: “[Stonewall’s] invention of a generic white knight who prompted the riots by hurling the first brick into a window is tantamount to stealing history from the people who made it.”

Peter Debruge from Variety writes: “representation-starved audiences deserve more than this problematic collection of stereotypes, which lacks the galvanizing power of such recent we-shall-overcome triumphs as “Selma” or “Milk,” and won’t draw anywhere near their numbers”

Richard Lawson from Vanity Fair also gets in on the action:Stonewall is perhaps even worse than some feared it would be—more offensive, more white-washed, even more hackishly made. It’s so bad that it’s hard to know where to begin a catalogue of the film’s sins”

The New York Times, Variety and Vanity Fair. Hardly the home of radical Criticalists. And that is perhaps the best part. Five years ago, I don’t know that the outcry against whitewashing and ciswashing would have been the dominant narrative of the film. It is a beautiful thing to witness, and feels a little like progress.

There is some danger to Stonewall bombing and being embroiled in criticism. The film industry could shrug its collective shoulders and say “Welp. Gay movies don’t do well because they’re gay.” And of course, then continue to not make mainstream queer movies. That’s the rub. While we have seen gains in television representation of LGBTQ people, both in numbers and quality, that has not translated to the big screen.

I love my campy queer movies as much as the next person, but I’m ready for a summer action flick where the main character, a woman, saves the world while her romantic storyline features another woman. We can tell queer stories, and we can also tell stories with queer characters. Hollywood seems to not have figured out either of these things. The films that come closest are Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, but those are not films I want to laud as the standard.

We need more when it comes to LGBTQ representation in Hollywood. More films, more characters, more directors, more screenwriters. Stonewall would have looked immensely different had it been written and directed by trans women of color. And there is one of those films on the way! There is still a matter of access when it comes to which films are made in Hollywood. And there’s the ongoing issue of erasing work made outside the well funded mainstream, as Emmerch did when he suggested “a black transgender woman makes her own film about what her position and feelings about Stonewall are.” Conventional wisdom points to the need for “mainstream” (read: white/straight/cisgender) appeal in order for a film to be successful, but the success of films like Straight Outta Compton, for all its flaws, undercuts that narrative. In that same vain, films passing the Bechdel Test actually make money. Who knew?

Stonewall did not fail because there is no interest in seeing a movie about LGBTQ people. Stonewall failed because nearly everyone recognized it as whitewashing and ciswashing history. In an age of Tumblr, that shit just isn’t going to fly. Our own Jos Truitt said it best:

Jos Tweet



Header Image Credit: The Guardian


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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