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The ‘Stonewall’ brouhaha

Director says he’s proud of film, despite activist backlash

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Roland Emmerich, Stonewall movie, gay news, Washington Blade,
Roland Emmerich, Stonewall movie, gay news, Washington Blade,

Jeremy Irvine as Danny in ‘Stonewall,’ throws the first brick. The filmmakers have drawn considerable ire for centering the action around Danny, a fictional character. (Photo courtesy Roadside Attractions)

When the world got its first look at the “Stonewall” trailer in August, reaction was swift and withering with some even calling for LGBT people to boycott the film, a dramatization of the 1969 New York riots that were a turning point for gay rights.

The film was assailed, from snarky social media posts (“Ah yes! That wonderful point in gay history where super models got really angry”) to outright vitriol. Pat Cordova-Goff, who identifies as a “transwomyn of color” is calling for a boycott with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. “Do not throw money at the capitalistic industry that fails to recognize true s/heros. Do not support a film that erases our history. Do not watch ‘Stonewall,’” she writes.

The beefs are essentially that historical events have been “whitewashed,” that trans characters are pushed to the sidelines and played by non-trans actors and that, as Tim Teeman wrote for the Daily Beast, “everyone appears to have been bused in from laughably predictable central casting.” The events are centered around a fictional character named Danny, a white Midwestern teen kicked out of his home for being gay. Ironically, few have pointed out that Jeremy Irvine, the 25-year-old “War Horse” actor who plays him, is straight.

Irvine, director Roland Emmerich and writer Jon Robin Baitz (all white, the latter two gay) have defended the film, which opens on Friday, Sept. 25 (it’s screening at area theaters such as Landmark E Street Cinema, ArcLight Bethesda, Angelika Film Center and more). They counter that most of the criticism is based on the trailer, not the film itself, that the true events of the riots are shrouded in myth and that any dramatization uses artistic license to varying degrees. Legendary gay writer Larry Kramer defended the filmmakers.

Emmerich, widely known for helming major films like “Independence Day” (1996), “Godzilla” (1998) and the Mel Gibson vehicle “The Patriot” (2000), is already at work on his next project. The German-born auteur spoke to the Blade by phone from his Los Angeles home. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

Roland Emmerich, Stonewall movie, gay news, Washington Blade,

Jonny Beauchamp, left, as Ray, and Vlad Alexis as Cong in ‘Stonewall.’ Although the filmmakers have been accused of ‘whitewashing’ history, it does include several Latino and African-American gender-nonconforming characters. (Photo courtesy Roadside Attractions)

WASHINGTON BLADE: What was the genesis of “Stonewall”?

ROLAND EMMERICH: Actually a producer friend of mine, Michael Fossat, proposed it to me. I was kind of like, “I don’t know, with so many great gay directors, why should I do a gay movie?” But then I started checking it out and read a lot and at the same time I took a tour of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and saw the homeless youth program and I realized that 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. Compared to the overall population, that’s actually quite a big number and so slowly I kind of started thinking that maybe this is something for me. We started looking for a writer and I read this terrific play by Robbie Baitz and it kind of came together. First we wrote a script and then we took it from there.

 

BLADE: The trailer got a lot of criticism. Did it give the wrong impression of the film or were people too quick to judge the film based on it?

EMMERICH: I like the trailer. We premiered it at the GLAAD awards and it got a standing ovation. Nobody had any criticism of it there. It’s very unfortunate that some people kind of felt it was kind of some sort of whitewashing, but it isn’t. The film itself uses a white character as a catalyst but the film itself is actually quite ethnically diverse. It has, you know, like all facets of the LGBT community both historic and invented. I didn’t comment on it much because I really felt I didn’t want to comment on criticism of the trailer.

 

BLADE: I’m not a filmmaker. What dramatic purpose does it serve to have a character such as Danny to center the action around? Why was that a device you wanted to utilize?

EMMERICH: Well, a friend of mine told me his story and that interested me a lot because it’s still a story that happens today with kids getting thrown out of their homes for being gay. These are often quaint kind of middle-class homes and then they end up on the street and I just felt that would be a unique approach because these stories show that you can be in that situation and hold on to your dignity and your dream and not lose them in the process. So it was a coming-of-age story with kids, which I could imagine very well. Also, the overall theme was one of unrequited love. When you look at the movie, it’s a lot about people who love somebody and it’s not that the other person doesn’t love them, but they cannot be together and yet at the end they all come together and create something great. That was overall, dramatically, I’d say, when I started with Robbie, you first talk about the approach you want to take. We are also big (J.D.) Salinger fans and he was a big writer in the ‘60s, you know. So that was a type of an influence, and it all came together from there. When you do your research on this, you realize there’s not really one standout character in these riots. I loved the idea that it was this group of homeless kids that we know about who were part of it. Just an overall riot of many people who had just had it. You know how riots happen. It was actually really sparked by a lesbian who resisted arrest. That’s what really threw everything into high gear.

 

BLADE: Theoretically could the film have worked with somebody like Marsha P. Johnson as the protagonist? Could you have gotten a green light with that approach?

EMMERICH: Well we never did get a green light. I gave my own green light. I love the Marsha P. Johnson character. I have friends who are trans women, but it felt to me like I’m a white male, I’m openly gay and we can have all forms of sexuality in this film, but I think it’s good to use somebody very close to yourself, you know, and find truth in that. We also didn’t want to make the Jonny Beauchamp character (Ray, a composite) as just Sylvia Rivera because she was the one who said she was at the Stonewall that night. I didn’t want to invent stuff around Sylvia. She was not a club kid and didn’t really have any relationship like that. So all this kind of came together through discussions and we used a lot of historical characters but also with these invented characters. I thought it was a better approach, at least for me, to show the feel this time had. We talked to some Stonewall veterans and we only found white guys, you know? I think actually there was one who wanted to call me but then this person died shortly after.

Roland Emmerich, Stonewall movie, gay news, Washington Blade,

Director Roland Emmerich says ‘Stonewall,’ despite its relatively small budget, was a tough film to get made. (Photo courtesy Roadside Attractions)

BLADE: How was the shoot?

EMMERICH: Well it was odd because we wanted to make it first on location in New York but it was too expensive and we found they’d never let us do what we wanted to do there. … New York is a very expensive town. So we ended up doing it in Montreal where we were able to use some Canadian actors and get a huge tax rebate. Once we decided to film it there, everything came together nicely. We had a very nice shoot, like 42 days, and it was one, big, happy family.

 

BLADE: Was it hard to get it financed?

EMMERICH: It was about $17 million and we got like $4 million back in tax rebates and the rest we did as a pre-sale to Germany and other countries. A friend of mine and I put in the rest. We went to all my usual contacts and they all said, “Oh, this is too niche, there’s no real big name in it,” and blah, blah, blah.

 

BLADE: Are the Hollywood bean counters squeamish about gay themes or is there a legit point in the math?

EMMERICH: No, they’re not. When somebody like, you know, Sean Penn takes on Harvey Milk, they’re all there because they know that’s an actor who can win an Oscar. So there’s more incentive to do films like that where the actor can be the incentive. They also say things like, “Why is he making a movie like that, why is he not making one of his big movies where we can make a lot of money?” And I’m saying, “I will make those movies, but I want to make other movies too.” I like these smaller projects sometimes, like “Anonymous.” Nobody wanted me to do that one either, but it’s fine.

 

BLADE: What’s it like making a small film like “Stonewall” versus a big-budget action spectacle like “Independence Day?” Do the headaches increase with the scope as one might expect or not necessarily?

EMMERICH: I think it is more complex making a film like “Independence Day” because you’re dealing with a little bit more complex techniques, like shooting half the movie on bluescreen, where it’s very, very tough to keep the actors involved. “Stonewall” was a very different method, a very old-fashioned method actually, where we actually built the street and everything, then in the back we had some photographic backgrounds and maybe only one or two scenes were bluescreen, the march and one other scene. It was a very gritty atmosphere on the set and I think the actors get something out of that. … I got a lot of knowledge working on those big movies that I could use in “Stonewall,” you know? I just kind of know how to make things realistic looking when they’re not.

 

BLADE: Sometimes controversy works in your favor. Will it help you here?

EMMERICH: Maybe it brought more attention to the film. I don’t know if people would have known about it otherwise. Now at least the gay people know. Sometimes a controversy works against you and sometimes it works for you. We won’t know till it comes out. It’s an interesting dynamic. Nobody knows what will happen but you never know this with any movie what will happen. I’m quite content. I’m already making my next movie. I’m very proud of the movie we did and everybody who was involved.

 

BLADE: How much straight support will the movie need to be successful?

EMMERICH: That will be a very interesting thing. … When we tested the movie, it actually tested better with straight people than gay because straight people don’t have all this sense of they think they know what it was about. Gay people think, “Oh, it was because Judy Garland died,” and they think they know the story, where as straight audiences don’t think like that. They think, “What was the story like and how did I get into the story and what did I learn?” They were actually amazed at how emotional they got in the story. I hope for a wider audience but it’s also not a big release. It’s like a 100-print release, so it’s perfect for me. We’ll see what happens.

 

BLADE: Have you been out your entire career?

EMMERICH: At the beginning in Germany I wasn’t out because I never wanted to become the gay director and it was kind of a typical thing in Germany, if you were out it was like you were a gay director and you only did gay movies, so I didn’t think it was good to come out. It was also a different time. Then I came to America and, of course, my friends knew, but at a certain point I realized I’m making big movies, I can be out, so I came out. This was like maybe 20 years ago, which was a bit late. I’m 59 turning 60, so it was a little different time. For me, “Stonewall” represents this mythical moment. I went to Christopher Street the first time I was in New York and stood in front of the Stonewall and it was always kind of like Germany to me. A little bit of this coming out, this proud moment because of what happened there.

LGBT film, gay news, Washington Blade

Otoja Abit as Marsha P. Johnson in ‘Stonewall.’ (Photo by Philippe Bossé; courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

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Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

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‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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