5 Noteworthy Films On Stonewall Riots

Since its Pride time, I want to share my all-time favourite films on the Stonewall riots. An event that is still remembered, celebrated, changed how LGBTQ people are perceived, and became a symbol of empowerment for the community.

June is the Pride Month, and its significance can be traced back to the summer of 1969 in June when a group of LGBTQ individuals, including gay men, trans individuals, lesbians, cross-dressers as well as women stood up to the police, at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. This event became the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and fight for LGBT rights in the US.

Back in that time, the Stonewall Inn was the only gay club left in the New York City that allowed dancing for its patrons. Police had raided many other gay clubs with the intent to kill such spaces since they felt that the existence of such bars was the cause of disintegrating moral values of the society. Stonewall Inn was also frequented by the members of the less privileged backgrounds in the LGBTQ community, namely homeless male prostitutes, Transgender regulars, street youths and people of colour.

Since its Pride time, I want to share my all-time favourite films on the Stonewall riots. An event that is still remembered, celebrated, changed how LGBTQ people are perceived, and became a symbol of empowerment for the community.

Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (1984) directed by Greta Schiller

This is one of the first documentary movies that were made on the Stonewall Riots and featured stories by famous LGBTQ artists, writers and activists; many of them present on the night of the riot itself. Staying true to its title, the movie chronicled the years before the rioting and how those years became an important fraction of what drove the crowd that night. Writers and poets like Ann Bannon and Allen Ginsberg speak at length about their own struggles as LGBTQ people in New York and how the city helped shape them as the city is shaped by communities like theirs. The movie also featured Audre Lorde who is the famous mythographer of her life’s story compiled in the book called Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, a book that famously chronicled what it was like to grow up as a lesbian in New York in the early 60’s. The film went on to win numerous awards, including an Emmy Award. Watch the trailer here. 

Stonewall (1995) directed by Nigel Finch

Deviating from the documentary style of narration to fiction, Nigel Finch’s drama is an homage to the LGBTQ community. In the centre of the plot, we find Matty Dean, a young man who arrives in New York and falls for La Miranda, a cross-dressing sex worker. While the movie is built around the riots as its main motivating background, it also touches on a few aspects of LGBTQ life back in the 1960’s such as the entire question of masculinity within the community, and how many researchers and scientists looked at homosexuality and deviance of any kind in gender or sexuality as a mental illness. Nigel, the director, died of AIDS a few days after the shooting was wrapped for this movie. Watch the trailer here.

After Stonewall (1999) directed by John Scagliotti

A much-anticipated sequel to its acclaimed predecessor, After Stonewall chronicled the thirty years that elapsed between the landmark riots. The documentary attempts to question if the LGBTQ politics had taken a turn for the good and whether the years of struggle produced any results that would lead to equal rights for the community. The movie includes featured personalities like Rita Mae Brown, Harvey Milk (archived footage), Anita Bryant (archived footage), Dorothy Allison and etc. Watch the trailer here.

Stonewall Uprising (2010) directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner 

This movie is more like an investigative foray into why the night of rioting was important and how it was already anticipated. The movie reproduces archival footages of interviews and recollections of experiences of people who were present and who saw what happened. The movie stays in the minds of its viewers as a reminder of the powerful movement that led the way to a political uprising that has been still kept alive by the community. Watch the trailer here.

Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2016) directed, written and produced by Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel 

This experimental movie aims to chronicle the life and experiences of transgender rights activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. By the end of the 20th century, Sylvia Rivera had become an important symbol of not only the Trans rights in the US, but also as the face of the Stonewall Riots, as she was one of the people at the forefront when the rioting took place. Unfortunately, the trailer for the movie isn’t available online. If you find it somewhere, please do share it with the other readers here.

About the author

Tanya S

An English Lit student, Tanya S is constantly oscillating between what to eat and what to read. On most days she can be found watering the money plant on her bookshelf.