Stonewall: Roland Emmerich and Jon Baitz's Failure of Imagination

Roland Emmerich posted to his Facebook page a defense of his new movie "Stonewall." In its he says that he was inspired to tell a "compelling, fictionalized drama... centering on a young midwestern [sic] gay man who is kicked out of his home for his sexuality and comes to New York, befriending the people who are actively involved in the events leading up to the riots and the riots themselves."

Herein lies the rub.

In his post, Emmerich fails to answer the most salient question of the film's critics: Why on Earth did you need to insert this "midwestern [white] man" into the Stonewall story as the tortured hero? Emmerich says that the film "deeply honors" the real life activists, but why isn't the movie "centering" on them instead? Why do you need the storytelling device of a white guy in the middle of it to tell the story at all? Why aren't all the other characters "compelling" enough on their own? After all it is THEIR story.

There were plenty of men from the Bronx or Brooklyn or Queens, or even Staten Island, who were is "kicked out" of their homes for their sexuality. Why not use one of them as the central character to tell the story?

It's the writer's job (i.e., Jon Baitz's job) to imagine his or her way into the life of someone else. To speak with someone else's voice. To see the world through another's eyes. To think the way they think and tell the audience what it's like to live in the world from their point of view.

If a writer finds this a tough task, then it's the writer's job to get educated and make a good faith attempt to do it right. It also takes intellectual and psychological stamina. It takes humility. Baitz refused to take that leap and instead fell back on writing from the point of view that felt most comfortable to him personally. Or perhaps he fell back on writing the story from the point of view that the producer thought was the most commercially viable. Whatever the reason, the point of view they wrote and produced from is a bastardization of actual real-life story.

Baitz's failure here is disappointing. As the writer of the acclaimed series The Slap, he told that story from eight different points of view. He is clearly capable of imagination. Then again, all of those points of view were white, middle class and straight.

So Emmerich and Baitz have yet to answer the most important question about this film -- a question that the entire community is waiting for: Why did you feel the need to tell the story from the point of view of a Midwestern white man?

There is absolutely no need, from a creative perspective, to drop this character into a story that is so clearly not his -- especially when there are so many other "compelling" characters to choose from. Any of whom could have had a film "center" on them.

From a storytelling perspective Emmerich and Baitz's choices are weak and just plain lazy.