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.