Since its trailer was unveiled a few weeks back, the new drama Stonewall has met with quite a bit of resistance, and not only because it finds the director of Independence Day and Godzilla taking on the seminal event of the gay rights movement. The issue at hand was how director Roland Emmerich was playing very fast and loose with history, seeming to downplay the role of transgender activists and people of color, focusing his lens on a (fictional) dreamy cornfed white cisgender kid from the Midwest. On the eve of its release, director Emmerich defended his decision thus: “You have to understand one thing: I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people… 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.”
Putting aside the icky gendered implications of that statement, Stonewall’s opening weekend numbers indicate no one, gay or straight, was much interested in “straight-acting” Danny’s brush with “history.” In its opening weekend, Stonewall came in 29th place, bringing in a mere $112,414.
“Now, wait a minute,” you might say, “those numbers don’t tell the whole story, because that was an independent film in limited release.” True! So let’s look a little closer; in the indie game, the limited-release number that matters is per-screen average. And how did Stonewall do there? Even worse—34th for the week, the lowest of any new release, its $112K averaging out over its 129 screens to a measly $871/per screen. As the /bent blog points out, “Average movie tickets cost $8.12 right now (which we know, sounds very low). That suggests only 107 people on average went to see Stonewall in each of its theaters’ weekend showings combined.” That’s well under the $16K/per screen of 99 Homes, the $14K/per screen of Mississippi Grind, or even the $2,269/per screen of The Green Inferno.
So there’s a way to see this as good news: when a filmmaker attempts to grossly rewrite history to appeal to a wider audience for questionable reasons, neither that audience nor their core one turns out. And there’s also a way to see this as bad news: Stonewall now becomes an arrow in the quiver of any studio exec or indie financier who wants to argue that people don’t go see LGBTQ-themed movies. But surely they’ll comprehend the complexities of this failure… right?