John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller, and Robert Rosenberg collaborated on the Emmy Award-winning documentary to produce an account of the changing society particular to LGBT communities, prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots, which sparked the contemporary gay liberation movement. Before Stonewall captures an era of thirty years, in which being of homosexual orientation was a cause for blackmail, police arrest, and suicide (due to the inhospitable way in which society considered same-sex relationships). The film culminates in a discussion of the pivotal Stonewall riots, which were prompted after a devastating clash in a gay bar in Greenwich Village in which patrons were asked to leave during a police raid. Upon resisting these commands, customers were met with brutal violence, beaten bloody. The police’s treatment sparked outrage and protests from the community at large. This event looms over the documentary and describes the rising action that caused the dam to burst.
In the 1920s onward, populations of homosexuals formed close-knit communities, sometimes welcoming, sometimes not, in sprawling metropolises such as New York City and San Francisco. Jam-packed into ninety minutes are interviews, many from activists who frequented Harlem nightclubs of the twenties; their recollections accompany the historical clips from old newsreels, providing a living, breathing context to decades-old archival footage. Benchmarks such as World War Two, the McCarthy era (in which political and sexual ‘deviants’ were blacklisted), and the Civil Rights movement are used to denote progress or setbacks along the course. The formation of the Daughters of Bilitis and the women’s rights movements are charted. At the time of Before Stonewall’s release, the view propagated by anti-LGBT rights opponents was that homosexuality was evidence of supposed moral decay; and this film serves, through sound bites, historical footage, and interviews with real people, to call attention to gay history when the AIDS scare was at its peak.
“Released in 1985, it helped put a halt on the notion that homosexuality was a product of societal moral decay, a tactical assertion gay rights opponents would sometimes try to insinuate based on a supposed lack of overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary.”
— Slant Magazine
“Through the memories of those who lived through the era, the film paints a vivid picture of tentative gay life.”
— Fourth Row Center
“It was a time when gay cinema was unheard of, gay rights non-existent and consensual sex between two men not only illegal in the eyes of the law, but open to blackmail.”
— Gay Celluloid
Did You Know?
Before Stonewall begins with a public service announcement that ‘The people who appear in this film should not be presumed to be homosexual’ ‘or heterosexual’. The documentary features a number of early LGBT films Salomé (1922), Call Her Savage (1932), This Is the Army (1943), Fireworks (1947) and The Killing of Sister George (1968). Review our Gay Themed Films Here