With "Stonewall," director Roland Emmerich steps out of the blockbuster disaster world that made him famous ("Independence Day," "2012") and into a much smaller film playground, telling the story of the 1969 Stonewall riots, a turning point in the gay rights movement. But he's found himself in something of a real-life disaster, as LGBT activists and critics have been very vocal about the film's alterations to history — primarily inserting Danny (Jeremy Irvine), a rural white character who comes to New York just before the riots, who serves as the audience's perspective on the events. Here, in his own words, Emmerich defends his decisions in how to present this piece of history.
This is the first time you've really addressed LGBT issues at all in your films. What was different about now?
First, when I was a young director I didn't want to be called gay because I wanted to make big movies. Then when I came to America, I realized that there's gay filmmakers making big films, so I can come out openly now — because I was always concerned, because movies were for me my life and I didn't want it to kind of tarnish that, you know what I mean? Which is stupid but was just how I thought. So I was relatively late coming out — I was 33 or so — publicly. And then what happened was people constantly kept saying to me, "You should do a gay movie" because now they knew that I'm gay. Or a "personal" movie. And then at one point these two producers came to me and said, "What about Stonewall?" And I said, "Somebody should make a movie about that!" And then it took three or four years until I finally did it, but in that time I was constantly thinking how could you tell a story of that time so people today could still relate to it? For me, every movie has to have a personal interest and a thing where people could maybe buy into that movie or that story.
Yes, but also a straight audience. When you make gay films everybody says it's for gay people, but no it's not. The majority is straight, and I'm curious how many straight people will go and see it. I hope a lot of them, I hope so.
How concerned were you with getting all the historical details right? What you change, what you don't …
I'm always relatively courageous there because I'm always saying, "It has to make sense as a story." As long as I get the feeling right, you know? For me, it was very rewarding because we showed it to the Stonewall veterans and to Martin Boyce, who was a kid of that time, and when they came out of the film they said, "Oh my God, this is very, very realistic." That's, for me, the highest honor you could get.