The Stonewall Uprising of June 28, 1969, marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. This documentary by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, which was originally broadcast as part of the PBS “American Experience” series, provides an extraordinary in-depth history of the events that contributed to landmark event.

The Stonewall Inn was a dingy Mafia-run unlicensed bar in Greenwich Village with a gay and lesbian clientele. It provided one of the very few safe havens for New York’s homosexual community in an era when gay men and lesbians were routinely arrested and incarcerated for public displays of their sexual orientation. (For the record, the mobster owners routinely overcharged their patrons and served watered down drinks – let’s not pretend La Cosa Nostra was ahead of the curve in the cause of gay rights.)

Although the Stonewall Inn had been the subject of previous police raids, the intrusion on that fateful 1969 evening caught everyone off-guard – the police were quickly overpowered by the hostile bar patrons, and the neighborhood around the Stonewall Inn became the scene of unprecedented rioting that lasted nearly a week.

The film mixes rare news footage and photography of the riots with cogent interviews of the participants in the riot, including the police officer that directed the ill-fated raid. While the documentary offers an invaluable record of a fateful moment in the advancement of social equality, it also provides a tragic overview of the hatred and violence aimed at gays and lesbians by a homophobic society in pre-Stonewall America.

This compelling and disturbing production is now available on DVD and can be seen online. It doesn’t matter what format you see it in – just see it, because it is among the year’s best non-fiction features.

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  1. Amy R Handler says:

    Stonewall is a superb documentary, created by a truly dynamic duo. You should also check out their amazing doc, “Waiting for Armageddon (2009).” These filmmakers are experts at provoking necessary thought.

  2. Matt Sorrento says:

    Great to hear that this is available online. I can never keep up with the “American Experience” entries, and I was annoyed that I missed this one. Yet, another reason that marks the ’60s as one of the nation’s most important eras.

  3. I was only ten years old when the Stonewall riots took place, and it would be another ten years or so until I began my own “coming out” process. Over the years I’ve read and seen my share of LGBT-themed historical material, but unfortunately my knowledge of the Stonewall uprising has been rather choppy. The fact that there is relatively little in the way of photographs and film footage from this pivotal event is especially tragic.

    When PBS broadcast “Stonewall Uprising” recently, I found it absolutely gripping. Gay Americans of MY generation (I’m going on 52) have a pretty good idea of what this was all about. But there is a younger LGBT generation who, while they may have heard of the Stonewall riots, really don’t have a good understanding how BAD things used to be for Gay people, and much progress we have truly made since the days when they were making spooky, cautionary classroom training films about how nasty homosexual men preyed on little kids.

    “Stonewall Uprising” is absolutely ESSENTIAL viewing for that younger generation of Gay Americans. Granted, there is still much progress that has yet to be made: In most states Gay people can still be fired for their jobs because of their sexual orientation, and in only a few places are Gay couples allowed any legal recognition. But the amount of progress that HAS been made is nothing short of astonishing, and what happened at the Stonewall in 1969 helped begin that process, so much the better.

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