On this day in 1985, the documentary Before Stonewall was released. A companion of the book of the same
name, Before Stonewall chronicles
LGBT life and culture in the United States before the Stonewall Riots and the
following explosion of the LGBT Rights Movement.
The original cover art was replaced with an updated design for the 25th anniversary edition of the film (x).
Quite literally, before Stonewall, there was the Compton’s
Cafeteria Riot, Julius’s Sip-In, and so many more demonstrations and quiet acts
of rebellion that set the stage for the civil rights movements of the 1970s and
onward. Directed by John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, the
documentary’s purpose is to shed light on the lesser-known events in LGBT
history while also just simply showing how gay, bi, and trans people lived
their lives in the pre-Stonewall ages. Written
by Andrea Weiss and Greta Schiller, the book Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community was published
in 1988 as a companion to the film. Both works combine archived film footage
and illustrations of an underground gay culture with interviews of the people
who actually lived in and helped create that culture. Some of those interviewed are lesbian icons
Audre Lorde, Anne Bannon, Barbara Gittings,
and Lisa Ben.
The lesbian activists and artists interviewed in the documentary include Audre Lorde, Lisa Anne Bannon, Barbara Gittings, and Lisa Ben (x).
interviews, the women also uncover a distinct lesbian culture and history from
the pre-Stonewall days that is even more rarely-talked about than the
pre-Stonewall gay culture. From the famous drag king of the 1920s, Gladys
Bentley, to Mabel Hampton and her lesbian activist work during the Harlem Renaissance; to the lesbian bar The Black Cat that originally opened in 1906, and The Beebo Brinker Chronicles and other
lesbian pulp fiction novels, Before
Stonewall acts as a time capsule for the LGBT kids of today to not only
learn about their history from the early 20th century, but to also
see how we were talking about that history before the AIDS crisis of the 1980s
took its toll.
Before Stonewall went on to make waves at several film
festivals and even won two Emmy Awards in 1987 for Best Historical/Cultural
Program and Best Research. In 1999, a sequel titled After Stonewall was released that covers the thirty years of LGBT
life and culture since the Stonewall Riots.