Documentary films often capture one moment in time of someone’s historic, personal, or emotional significance. Stonewall Uprising manages to do all three at once in this 80 minute film from First Run Features that reads more like a history lesson and less like a film. The lack of archival footage does not diminish the poignancy of what happened on June 28, 1969.
The Stonewall Inn was one of the few openly gay bars in the United States. Located in New York’s Greenwich Village, one would think that a bar in New York City would blend into the background with any other. Not so on the night of June 28, 1969.
From something that seems straight out of an Al Capone film, the Stonewall Inn was a mafia-run gay bar in the late 1960s. Then the police showed up on a routine call and things turned violent for the next three days as gays and lesbians took out their collective frustrations on the environment around them.
The lead officer during the raid described the first night of the riot as “real war”. Other people who were eyewitness to the events says it was a “Rosa Parks moment” that began a thirty year struggle for gay rights known as the Gay Rights Movement.
Status of Gay Rights
Stonewall Uprising relies on firsthand accounts and expounds upon the status of gay rights at the time the riots broke out. Three years earlier, Mike Wallace of CBS News had given an embarrassing report on the “medical condition” that can be “cured” with things like drugs and electroshock therapy. Since then of course it’s been disproven that homosexuality needs to be “cured” like an illness.
Basically, homosexuals were treated as raving lunatics in a society that was still reeling from the Civil Rights movement. Instead of skin color it was believed that loving someone of the same gender was a mark of insanity.
What the film lacks in archival footage makes up for in the poignancy of the three days of the Stonewall Uprising. Even if the police didn’t show up that night, even if no one raised a fist to them, it took something tragic to bring this kind of movement into the consciousness of Americans. When we look back at our own despicable behavior during times of oppression, something like these riots make us examine our souls in ways we never thought possible.
That is what the movie is best at doing. As Americans in a modern society there are no excuses for behaviors that led to the Stonewall riots. Unlike most movies we see that come to a satisfying denouement Stonewall Uprising doesn’t do that whatsoever.
My wife and I never enjoyed a minute of the film because it made us bare our souls and wonder how humans are capable of doing such horrible things because someone else is different. I suppose if we grew up with intolerance in our households we could understand why humans focus on the differences that turn into tragedy but my wife and I simply don’t get it.
It is natural for humans to fear the unknown like a dark cave, a large predator, a rumbling sound from beneath the earth, and other natural calamities that are born into our DNA. Stonewall Uprising points out the absurdity of being violent simply because someone is gay.
The director, Karen Cooper, does well to make anyone who has a heart and soul look deep into the chasm of hate find ourselves staring back at our blank face. Stonewall Uprising may not have dramatic footage, but the people who are interviewed tell the story well enough that no one should be safe within their own skins when they come out of the theater.