"Stonewall Uprising," the terrific documentary from Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, airs on WTTW channel 11 (Chicago's PBS station) at 9 p.m. tonight.
My review of the documentary is bellow. The review originally ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on Aug. 6, 2010.
Recalling a landmark for gay rights; 'Stonewall Uprising' shows how progress was made
Rating 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
First Run presents a documentary directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner. Running time: 82 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening today at the Music Box.
In a time when the issue of gay marriage remains controversial, it's ironic to hear Mike Wallace state, as he does in a clip from a 1966 CBS news report, that "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."
The rearview mirror of history is, without a doubt, unflattering. Wallace's statement is just one of many cringe-worthy and jarring moments in the moving documentary "Stonewall Uprising" that shows just how far the gay rights movement has come.
Lovingly described by several participants in the documentary as "a dump," the Stonewall Inn was probably the last place you'd expect a civil rights movement to take hold. On June 28, 1969, 10 police officers entered the seedy, Mafia-owned Greenwich Village gay bar for what was a routine election-year bust.
"Who was going to complain against a crackdown on gays? No one. Not even us," Jerry Hoose says bluntly in one of the many interviews with participants and eyewitnesses to the events.
"The first police officer that came in with our group said, 'The place is under arrest; when you exit, have some identification, and it will be over in a short time,'" recalls Seymour Pine, a retired deputy inspector from the morals division of the New York Police Department. "This time they said, 'We're not going. That's it. We're not going.'"
Co-directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner do a great job of not only covering the riots but also the cultural, social and political climate that led up to the "uprising." Nearly two-thirds of the film is spent on the backstory of what life was like for gays and lesbians. Even those well-versed in gay/lesbian history will find new details here.
At the time of the riots, homosexual acts were illegal in every state except Illinois. Many Americans viewed homosexuality as a mental illness, and some gays and lesbians were subjected to castration, sterilization, lobotomy, shock treatment and a drug-induced form of waterboarding, all in efforts to "cure" them.
After watching nearly an hour of this film, you aren't surprised the riots took place but rather how it could have taken so long for things finally to boil over.
Change never happens overnight, though. The first gay pride parades in New York and Chicago held one year later to mark the Stonewall events were hardly the good-natured, straight-inclusive spectacles they have become; participants feared being fired from their jobs or, at worst, even being assassinated for participating in the parade.
One of the most poignant moments comes from Pine, who empathizes with the rioters: "You knew they broke the law. But what kind of law was that?"