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Stonewall Uprising (2010)
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Various, and sundry
Kate Davis, David Heilbroner
June 28, 1969: NYC police raid a Greenwich Village Mafia-run gay bar, The Stonewall Inn. For the first time, patrons refuse to be led into paddy wagons, setting off a 3-day riot that launches the Gay Rights Movement. Told by Stonewall patrons, Village Voice reporters and the cop who led the raid, STONEWALL UPRISING compellingly recalls the bad old days when psychoanalysts equated homosexuality with mental illness and advised aversion therapy, and even lobotomies; public service announcements warned youngsters against predatory homosexuals; and police entrapment was rampant. A treasure-trove of archival footage gives life to this all-too-recent reality, a time when Mike Wallace announced on a 1966 CBS Reports: “The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.” At the height of this oppression, the cops raid Stonewall, triggering nights of pandemonium with tear gas, billy clubs and a small army of tactical police. The rest is history
Stonewall Uprising (2010) | Review
"Our Rosa Parks Moment"
In 1969, life was much different for gays and lesbians. Homosexual acts were illegal in every state except Illinois. They were told they were sick. They were subjected to aversion therapy, castration, and lobotomies to try to "cure" them. Many of them married and even had children to try to fit in with the societal norm. Gay life was hidden away in seedy bars run by the Mafia. From time to time the police would come and arrest people.
On June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City. There was an election coming up and the mayor wanted all "weirdness" done away with. But this time when the police showed up, those in the bar didn't go quietly as they had so many times before. Instead a riot broke out—an event that is often noted as the beginning of the gay pride movement. Stonewall Uprising is a recounting of the events of that night told by some of those who were participants or witnesses.
There are only a few photos of those events. The film makes use of reenactments and footage from other riots to help us have an idea of what the night was like. Documentarian purists may reject such ways of telling stories, but often (as in Errol Morris's films) such footage is very helpful to understand a bit more of what was happening.
The film works up to the Stonewall riot by leading us through the times. Participants tell of what life was like for them during the time before the uprising. There is also some archival footage of news shows about homosexuality and public service films warning about homosexual predators. (All gays were thought to be predators at the time.) From ever corner, gays were disparaged. Medical attitudes were condemning, as were the opinions of psychologists. We see police speaking to children warning them about the dangers of becoming homosexual. For those who lived through this, it was very hard to know how other people thought of their lives.
The issue is framed as a matter of civil rights. One of the hallmark attitudes of the Sixties was that things didn't have to stay the way they had always been. Some of those who took part in the events at Stonewall had been active in the Civil Rights Movement and Peace Movement, in large part as an outlet for their frustration at their own repression.
Prior to Stonewall, gays and lesbians were passively accepting of the situation. One of the people in the film said, "You get used to it. It was our going to the back of the bus." One participant calls Stonewall their "Rosa Parks moment"—that point where they wouldn't stand for being put into an inferior place anymore.
The riot itself also gets a good deal of attention. We hear from those who were outside the bar harassing the police, from reporters from the Village Voice whose offices were just down the block and covered the story, and from the leader of the police squad that came to shut down the club. It quickly grew out of control. Soon the police were trapped in the club with the mob outside.
The aftermath of the riot probably is as important as the riot itself. This event gave gays the understanding that they didn't have to settle for being marginalized. As one person comments, "We had discovered a power we didn't know that we had." It was one year later that the first Gay Pride parades took place in various cities.
No doubt there are many who would prefer for things to go back to the time when gays and lesbians were all closeted and hidden away. They want to return to the attitudes of homosexuality as shameful and a sickness. Our society will never go back to those days—and we shouldn't. Because of Stonewall and the way gays and lesbians began claiming the civil rights that belong to them, our society has changed forever. As we look back at those times, we see just how different they were—and we know that the attitudes of that time were wrong. That is made clear with the closing statement of the film, which I opened this review with. Those words come from someone who was there that night. He wasn't a patron of the bar. He was the police officer who had come to arrest everyone there. From the perspective of forty years later, he sees things differently than he did that night.
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