Stonewall Uprising

Dir: Kate Davis and David Heilbroner

Rating: 4.0/5.0

First Run Features

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York as a closeted homosexual in the early’60s was definitely a challenging and painful experience for me. I often felt as if I had been born into a society that outwardly demonized my existence and viewed me and others of “my kind” as despicable and abominable motes in the eye of a very unforgiving God. Given that, Stonewall Uprising focuses on just how pervasive and deep the societal oppression directed towards the GLBT community actually was at that time.

Stonewall Uprising succeeds most when depicting how unbelievably hostile and narrow-minded our society was in the ’60s. Homosexuality was viewed as a sickness, a malignant mental illness that needed to be totally and forcibly eradicated. This stance was also strongly upheld by organized religion as well as those in scientific psychology communities. Gay people were disowned by their families, some were committed to mental institutions against their will and were subjected to electro-shock “therapy” or even given lobotomies. Police brutality (since being gay was considered illegal in many states) and imprisonment were frequent events. Jobs were denied, military discharges were numerous and many lives were sadly unfulfilled.

Finally driven underground by a hostile society there existed only a few meccas where gay people could actually connect with others both socially and romantically. The Mafia-owned Stonewall Bar in New York was one of these sanctuaries but not without its share of police raids, arrests and unprovoked brutalities. At a time which coincided with major civil rights movements in other areas of society and the freedom of individuality boldly expressed in the hippie movement, the long smoldering tinder box of continued oppression of gay people finally reached a point of ignition.

Directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner skillfully and seamlessly weave original archival footage, including news headlines, and broadcast segments with present day interviews of those who were part of the scene. Those interviews include testimonies of not only those members of the gay community, but also those involved in the media and members of the police squads who played pivotal roles in the uprising. The viewer actually feels as if he or she is reliving all the events that led up to and included the two-night uprising. This is accomplished through personal narrations that are accurately connected and underscore each and every scene portrayed on screen. The empathy, in the viewer for a minority, long persecuted and reviled is definitely evoked. In one scene taped in the ’60s, a police officer stands before a large classroom of 11 year-olds and warns that any of them who may harbor homosexual feelings, will virtually be condemning themselves to a life of hell.

It’s films like Stonewall Uprising that offer us a chance to really experience an opening in the realms of tolerance, and acceptance even if that opening comes through the process of revolution. The series of events portrayed in this documentary have great relevance in a world where narrow- minded divisions and hostility still have a stronghold in the minds of humanity.

by Allyn Sterling
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