by director Roland Emmerich
As a filmmaker, I constantly look inward and ask, “In what story can I find the true part of myself?” For instance, with my film Anonymous, I explored the idea of showmanship vs. authenticity. In The Patriot, I examined the forces which compel us to act heroically for our beliefs. My latest film, Stonewall, represents the culmination of years pondering what authentic story I could tell as a gay man that made the most emotional sense to me.
I was a young teenager when the Stonewall Riots broke out in New York during the summer of 1969, a time when one risked harassment and beatings by the police if discovered to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The riots affected me deeply because it was a moment when a courageous group of LGBT youth spontaneously fought against their oppressors and declared loud and clear, “This is who we are.”
That time in history sparked a political movement which led to greater freedoms for LGBT people, a more open and accepting society, and this past summer’s landmark marriage equality ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a gay kid growing up in Germany, the Stonewall rebellion marked the end of my personal struggle to identify myself—because I had finally located that true part of me.
When I do my work with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, serving mostly teenagers and young adults, I’m often reminded of the young person I once was. Over the past couple of decades, art has extensively chronicled gay history, so kids today are aware of the fight against HIV/AIDS through films like A Normal Heart, for example. But I was stunned to learn how little they knew of Stonewall, if they had heard of it at all. Today’s LGBT youth, who struggle for the same recognition that the street kids in the Village in 1969 fought for vigorously, do not have a sense of their own history. The torch has been kept aflame by historians and documentarians, but not in contemporary culture.
Ironically, of all the movies I’ve directed for Hollywood—Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Stargate, etc.—Stonewall was the hardest to make and the least expensive. It posed the greatest challenges bringing it to the big screen, but it is my most personal work because it relates to my own history so profoundly. As a gay man and filmmaker, my hope is for Stonewall to serve as a beacon for all young people today, a message transmitted from their contemporaries of almost half a century ago: Stand up for yourself and declare who you are, with pride.