by filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
We've been making documentaries for nearly twenty years, but of all the subjects we've delved into none has felt as exciting and yet as intimidating as Stonewall. Stonewall was the riot where the so-called ‘limp-wristed fags’ fought back…and won. A tipping point alive with humor and anger, pain and triumph. A Rosa Parks moment that speaks across generations. But it was also a police drama and a Mafia exposé. A tale of ‘60s radicalism and of underdog survival. A window into the darkest corners of Greenwich Village. And despite the hard times many gay men and lesbians lived through, every turn was almost always laced with wit.
We could never have made Stonewall Uprising without the people who were there on those chaotic June nights in 1969, the rioters who outsmarted the cops on the Village streets, the agents provacateurs. And as we discovered when we put them before Buddy Squiers' artful camera, they were not only alive, they were emphatically doing well. Funny, wry, moving and brimming with vivid memories of a time when as one Stonewall street kid says, “somehow being gay was the worst thing you could possibly be.”
All along, their testimony reminded us just how far we’ve come in forty years. The ‘60s were truly dark ages for gay men and lesbians. Considered depraved deviants, homosexuals were subject to arrest, hospitalization, electroshock therapy, lobotomies. We scoured archival vaults across the country and managed to unearth original footage depicting all these horrors, often served up as immutable truth by the likes of Mike Wallace and government agencies. Do you laugh or cry?
Meanwhile out on the streets, the gay bars were all Mafia-run, cheap, dirty and dark, since it was illegal to serve liquor to open homosexuals. Cops trolled the streets in drag and entrapped in subway bathrooms. Then, in New York City, during a ‘routine raid’ hundreds of gay men and women stood up to a phalanx of helmeted riot cops and said no. They said no, as they danced in a Rockettes-style kick line, no as they chased the cops around the twisted Village streets, and they said kept saying no as they trapped the cops inside the Stonewall Inn.
Exactly one year later, the riot was commemorated by the first gay pride march which in turn inspired a worldwide movement. And the rest, as they say, is history.