Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community | Stonewall @ 50


>>> Welcome to "Stonewall@ 50, " a CUNY TV Digital Series celebrating Pride 2019.

>>> This is Merlin with Greta Schiller and AndreaWeiss from Jezebel Productions.

GretaSchiller is an award-winning independent documentary filmproducer and director.

The "InternationalSweethearts of Rhythm, " "Paris Was A Woman" and "The ManWho Drove with Mandela" are some of her best-knownwork.

Andrea Weiss is a nonfiction authorand documentary filmmaker.

Her books include "ParisWas a Woman" about lesbian life in Paris between theWars, "Vampires and Violets, " lesbians in film.

And "Stonewall", which is we’rehere to talk about, which is the basis for the film"Before Stonewall.

" Greta, how did you come up withthe concept of "Before Stonewall?" >>> Good question.

Peopleoften ask that.

I have recently going back intomy notes to remember because it was a long timeago that I made the film.

In the late 70s early 80s, Julia Reichert and a couple of other Feministsfilmmakers were the first people to start using oralhistory as history in documentary films.

Theydid it because the history of women and working classpeople were written out.

So, my co-director and I, Robert Rosenberg, had the idea that we should dosomething like this for gay and lesbian people.

Early on we brought Andrea in to shape the project, and do the research, to pull it together, andpresto you have the film.

♪ [Piano Music] ♪[Sirens] [Sounds of protesting]♪ [Piano Music] ♪ >>> Was the book a resultof making the film? >>> Well, the book came outafter the film.

It was really, a kind of, idea that Gretaand I had to make the film a little more user-friendlyfor educational purposes.

So, that was kind of, itwas it was definitely after.

There were a few books onlesbian & gay history before we made "Before Stonewall.

"And certainly we leaned on them and on thehistorians who wrote them.

But there wasn’t any kind ofcomprehensive look at the same ground that thefilm covers which is: lesbian & gay experience in theUnited States before Stonewall.

>>> How did Stonewall turn from a shaming technique by the police andpoliticians into a rallying cry for our nation? Greta? >>> Well, you know, it’sinteresting because the Stonewall Riots, there wasa homophile movement.

But they were really focusedon, "Yeah, we want to look like that we’re employableby the Federal Government.

We want to blend into thedominant culture.

" But the subculture, in the massmajority of Queers, they were not interested inthat.

There was no entry point for them.

Right? So, Stonewall, was a bar where a lot of young people, now we call Transgender people, you know, ButchFemme and Queens, would go and congregate.

Because itwas a safe space.

Every culture needs safe spaces.

It had another twist, which was, the mafia.

Because homosexuality and cross-dressing wasillegal, the mafia would require payouts from theowners of the bar in order to not do police raids.

And one night, it was like a hot summer night.

JudyGarland had just died.

And the women’s movement wasjust the beginnings of the Third Wave of Feminism.

And these young people just said, "Screw you!We’re not taking it anymore!" And they just went outinto the streets and said, "We’re fighting back!" Andinterestingly enough, none of the mainstream media covered the riots.

Luckily, Fred McDarrah, he was a documenter, was a photographer ofdowntown culture.

So, he went out and tookpictures and they were published in the Village Voice.

This was not on the radar, but it was on the radarof the homosexual community.

And that’s when you hadyour proliferation of Gay Liberation Frontand community centers, and starting to cometogether and say, "Yeah, what arewe going to do?" >>> Andrea, how were thelesbians represented in the Women’s Movement? >>> There were rumblingsof the Women’s Movement in the 60s.

There was a verymainstream movement.

It was run, you know, bylike, Betty Friedan and National Organization forWomen.

Lesbians were very active in that but theyweren’t out as lesbians, right? It really wasn’tuntil after Stonewall that, what we think of now as theSecond Wave of Feminism, the Women’s Movement;where it was really, a huge groundswell of feminist andparticularly lesbian feminist activity started like in, itstarted in the early 70s.

It was after Stonewall.

I wouldsay, the period between maybe 1970-71 where there wasyou know, "The Furies, " which a bunch was involvedwith and Rita Mae Brown.

Radical Lesbians and someof these much more edgier groups sprung up after1970, and that went on till the middle to latterend of the 70s.

>>> How was "BeforeStonewall" received? >>> I think it was thefirst feature documentary on any subject directed bylesbian, funded by PBS.

It was the first film to winan Emmy for Best Research.

That was the first time, their best research, I think they founded theBest Research Emmy because Andrea did such an amazingjob on the research.

>>> I don’t think so but, okay.

[laughing]>>> She won that Emmy.

>>> She got that Emmy, yeah.

>>> I was nominated asbest director.

The producers and I, which Iwas one, got the best historical film that year.

So, it was kind of like, "Whammo!" Like instantsuccess.

I was very young.

One of my favorite oneswas in Oklahoma, Andrea and I went down, because Andrea knew people in Oklahoma, and we organizeda screening of the film.

It was the first time agay group and the Film Arts group ever workedtogether.

So, they were really happy we broughtthem together.

We were like, "We’re going toscreen this film here anyway.

" It was in a shopping mall.

Andon the poster, which said, "Before Stonewall: The Making ofa Gay and Lesbian Community, " the management of the shoppingmall, where the cinema was, blacked out the words "Gayand Lesbian" on the poster.

Okay, the images are of gayand lesbian people, but somehow, those poor people in Oklahomacouldn’t see those words.

And then we went, and where it was broadcast, we got just an overwhelmingnumber of letters of people just saying, "Thank you.

This is the first time we’ve ever been acknowledgedor recognized, " and you know, "Just, thankyou.

" And then we got to some hate mail, "I’m never going togive money to PBS again because you’rebroadcasting this crap.

" That was very minimal.

Andquite surprising from the PBS audience.

Although, ofcourse, now we know.

Doesn’t mean they were PBSaudience.

It could have been anyone writing that.

>>> Was Stonewall arebellion or a riot? >>> Yeah, this is reallyinteresting.

Because, the thing about the time ofThe Stonewall, I would say, Riots, which led to aRebellion Movement, you could say.

But like mostmovements that started out with big dreams ofchanging society and transforming the human, they kind of got sidelined.

Now it’s like a corporatemarketing opportunity the main Pride Events, youknow.

It’s not too much about, like maybe, the societyin which we live is a little problematic?That’s kind of been lost.

>>> There was no forethought, "We’re launching an international movementthat’s going to change life as we know it.

" Infact, there’s a still, there’s a photograph inour film that was taken by Fred McDarrah of theVillage Voice, that shows a sign up at The StonewallInn where the Mattachine Society, which was amovement which had literally strategicallythought about how to integrate gay and lesbianpeople into mainstream culture, were asking the rioters to gohome and stop this nonsense.

There’s an image where, thatshows, that they were actually against the riots.

Theythought it was going to hurt their efforts.

>>> I could see that.

>>> And so, to say that itwas a rebellion, implies that there was a certainlong-term strategy.

And the long-term strategy was, there was a long-term strategy, but it was in fact the oppositeof what the rioters were doing.

Which it was simply saying, "No.

" They were saying, "We’ve had it! We’rehot.

We’re bothered.

We’re not putting upwith this anymore!" And I’m sure they nevercould have imagined what they had instigated.

>>> Not at all.

Not at all.

Well, where were you in 1969? >>> I was in high schoolin Ann Arbor, Michigan, being part of theburgeoning, you know, Lefty Movement / Anti-WarMovement / Environmental Movement.

We would go andhave rap groups with students at the U of M.

They could ask usquestions about our life.

[laughing] >>> And where were you in 1969? >>> In 1969, I was 13years old and preparing for my Bat Mitzvah.

And Icertainly didn’t know I was a Lesbian.

[laughing] >>> I corrupted her.

>>> Oh really? Well, youhave been Partners since the early 80s.

Are youalso Partners in life? >>> Yes.

>>> Very good.

Did you getmarried? >>> Yes, we did.

>>> We recently got marriedbecause our daughter said, "Mom, you have to get married.

What if they take the right away from you?" And we’re like, "Now that’s a perspective.

" So we did.

We were always like, "Who wants to get married?" We want it- we don’t believein all this heterosexual crap.

And all this kinda.

.

.

We don’t need the government, certainly, not a church tovalidate our relationship.

But then, she convinced us itwas the right thing to do.

That’s what kids do.

>>> Is there a memorable momentwith an audience member? >>> It’s funny.

I thinkone of my, one of my recent memorable momentswas when the film was invited to be in the BerlinFilm Festival Retrospective, a great honor, in 2016.

One of the young guys, twenty-somethingfilm student guy came up.

He raised his hand and he said, "When did you make this film?" And I said, "Well, let’s see.

It was released in Germany in say 1985.

" And he was like, "That was, that was before I was born! And, it justfeels so.

.

.

" So, he didn’t use the word’contemporary, ’ you know, "It’s so modern! I mean, Wow! Wow!" And then that’s of course the greatestcompliment you can get.

>>> There was one old manthat I will never forget.

Who wrote to us because he hadread about "Before Stonewall" in the local gay press.

He’s basically, we still have that letter, "I’m a SeniorCitizen.

I’m living on a very small fixed income, but Ienclose, I enclose two dollars, two dollar bills.

I enclosetwo dollars and will send you two dollars the firstof every month until the film is finished.

" >>> You can’t get supportlike that.

That’s what politicians are wishingfor today from a million people.

>>> And of course, twodollars was, you know, maybe eight dollars today, butstill it was not a big amount.

But it meant so much tohim that he pledged that he was going to do that untilthe film was finished.

>>> I want to thank bothof you for coming today.

>>> Thank you.

>>> Yeah.

Thanks a lot.

>>> This is Merlin withGreta Schiller and Andrea Weiss from Jezebel Productions.

Wehope you enjoyed our discussion of "Before Stonewall:The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community.

"Please join us next week for another installmentof "Stonewall @ 50, " a CUNY TV Digital Series, celebrating Pride 2019.

Thank you for watching.

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