This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

21Jun/19

BEFORE STONEWALL: THE MAKING OF A GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY

Documentary follows the beginnings of the gay liberation movement leading up to Stonewall

Documentary follows the beginnings of the gay liberation movement leading up to Stonewall

BEFORE STONEWALL: THE MAKING OF A GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY (Greta Schiller, 1984)
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, June 21
212-255-2243
quadcinema.com

“Unless otherwise stated, the people who appear in this film should not be presumed to be homosexual . . . or heterosexual,” it says at the beginning of Before Stonewall, the 1984 documentary that has been restored for the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Executive producer John Scagliotti, director Greta Schiller, and codirector Robert Rosenberg go back in time to show the evolution of gay liberation that led up to the events of June 28 to July 1, 1969. Narrated by Rubyfruit Jungle author Rita Mae Brown, the film combines new interviews with archival footage of silent movies, personal photographs, songs, intimate recollections, and poignant anecdotes, both painful and funny. “Homosexuality has always been a dirty word,” says artist and writer Richard Bruce Nugent. “I cannot remember, in my seventy-some years, a time when it wasn’t a dirty word. But on the other hand, homosexuality, the practice of it, was not a dirty thing.”

Writer and former dancer Harry Otis, retired bookkeeper Donna Smith, activist and Mattachine Society cofounder Harry Hay, domestic worker and dancer Mabel Hampton, newspaper reporter and WWII army chaplain George Buse, priest Grant Gallup, entertainer Carroll Davis, journalist and archivist Jim Kepner, US government scientist Frank Kameny, poet Allen Ginsberg, and historian and playwright Martin Duberman are among those who share stories about discrimination they experienced and how they fought to maintain their identity. WAC soldier Nell “Johnnie” Phelps’s anecdote about General Dwight D. Eisenhower is one of the best Ike tales you’ll ever hear.

The film looks at censorship, secret parties, all-gay theater, the Hays Code, homosexuality in the military, drag queens, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s HUAC hearings, same-sex marriage, gay publications, and Black Power as the desire for freedom for gays and lesbians builds, leading to the Stonewall rebellion. “In the sixties, there was a distinct change in the temper and the tempo of the gay movement, partly as a result of the black civil rights militancy,” activist Barbara Gittings says. “We began to get more militant in the gay movement. We began to see that the problem of homosexuality is not really gay people’s problem. It’s a problem of the social attitudes of the people around us, and we had to change their attitudes, and that in turn would help us with our self-image.” Despite how far they’ve come, however, gays and lesbians still have a long way to go in an America that has still not fully accepted them. Before Stonewall opens June 21 at the Quad, with Q&As with Schiller, Rosenberg, and research director Andrea Weiss on June 21 at 6:30, with Rosenberg on June 222 at 7:05, and with Schiller, Weiss, production manager Amy Chen, historical consultant Blanche Wiesen Cook, and Lesli Klainberg on June 23 at 2:50, moderated by Tracy Daniels.

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