Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Village people

At a community screening of The Stonewall Uprising, I don't think there was a dry eye in the theatre at end of the film.

It's a powerful and short documentary about identity, safe spaces, civil rights, and political power. Most of the people featured in the film were all at the Stonewall Inn the night police raided it - bar patrons, a reporter, a cop commanding his squad.

Half of the documentary focuses on laws that persecuted gays and lesbians, and on making the viewer understand the very real fear and culture of hiding that accompanied being gay or lesbian before the 1969 Stonewall "riots" that sparked the beginning of the LGBT rights movement began to change that. It's interspersed with horrible propaganda clips from the 1950s and 60s about how gays and lesbians are deviants, sociopaths, and predators; it highlights how people were methodically hunted and their lives ruined for trying to find both public and private spaces to be themselves. Without that context, it's impossible to understand how monumentally important it was that people resisted and fought back during this one bar raid in New York.

A friend remarked that, from an organizer's perspective, it's extremely moving and humbling to realize "Holy shit, there's something huge going on here, socially and culturally." (Having just wrapped up about two solid months of rallies and protests of our own, we could definitely relate to certain parts of the movie about mobilizing people and finding out that you have vastly underestimated the level of interest in your event.)

The most poignant scenes of the documentary were the moments where participants said, in their own words, how proud or shocked or happy they were that the "riots" were the first time they felt empowered.

The film ends with the first Pride Parade, organized in New York City to commemorate Stonewall a year later. It was a great way to end, showing how the momentum from Stonewall was channeled into something enduring and amazing.

Though there's still a hell of a long way to go in America in terms of gay rights, this documentary was a good tribute to how far we've come - and in the lifetimes of pioneers who were there 42 years ago.

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