JUNE 27: Before Stonewall is released (1985)
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).
In their 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.