Directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
Written by David Heilbroner
Running time: 80 minutes
MPAA Rating: Contains parental advisory
Gay politics were born on June 28 in 1969, when a police special task force raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. If this “Rosa Parks moment” seems remote now, it’s because intervening decades have pushed us through gay pride and AIDs towards gay marriage in a new world.
But back in 1969, the police used bullyboy tactics, and then resorted to tear gas and billy clubs to strong-arm the mild-mannered Stonewall regulars, who finally rose up to fight back in the contemporary news footage shown here – and with a certain amount of grace and wit under provocation.
“Give us prettier cops!” was one chant that rang around the Mafia-run gay watering hole. Some of the rioters are still with us today, and testify in Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s praiseworthy documentary. As told by Stonewall patrons – among them drag queens, hustlers, homeless youth and Ed Koch – this marked the birth of the gay rights movement.
Eyewitnesses relate how the violence provoked the birth of gay pride, and how gay bashings and the spectacle of unrepentant protesters being led away in handcuffs caused a broadening backlash that soon grew into gay coalitions.
Painstakingly shot and edited, Stonewall Uprising adds some well researched archival footage as well as interviews with Stonewall regulars. We watch Mike Wallace telling us on network television that “average homosexuals” were promiscuous and uninterested in long-term relationships.”
Shockingly, gays were considered to be mentally ill. They were sent to correction centers for electric shock therapy, they were sterilized, and even castrated. It was an era when no gay man dared to visit the Deep South, for example.
Compared to today’s relative acceptance we could be talking about another planet or an earlier century. Even those who remain firmly opposed to the idea of gay marriage will find it hard to ignore the mistreatment suffered by many. Their lives were never easy and at this point in history they faced physical danger too, more restricted than they ever would be behind the Iron Curtain.
Stonewall Uprising is one documentary that will enjoy a long afterlife and will appear regularly on public TV stations across the land. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the birth of gay rights occurred at 6th Avenue and 8th Street that night at the Stonewall.