the night when Stonewall let its political voice be heard
Fresh in New York and heading straight to the gay bars of Greenwich Village, country boy Matty Dean's dreams of living a liberated lifestyle get off to a bad start, when his quiet drink in the Stonewall Inn is subject to a police raid. But hey, there's nothing new in that. For this is New York City pre-liberation style, a time when raids and sexual
harassment were common place and what you let risk for just being your homosexual self.
Yet even here, love can find a way, as Matty Dean soon discovers when he finds himself falling for the charms of La Miranda, a drag queen armed with her personal liberation movement. Not that this courts her any favours with stylish DQ Bostonia, nor the police for that matter and inparticular those officers present in the Stonewall Inn on the night of the 27th June 1969. For imprisoned in a world of injustice, some would come to see no way out but in drink or suicide. Others however would decide to fight the system and on that night the fight became a riot. And this time Matty Dean, Bostonia, La Miranda and a host of other drag queens in forcing back the homophobic arm of police brutality, would come to take one stiletto step forward for justice and one giant leap toward homosexual equality!
If all this sounds familiar, then it should. For this feature is based on fact. That fact being the Stonewall riot of 1969, an event that would come to see self-hate and despair replaced with hope and empowerment. Yet what specific act set in motion the riot itself, appears to have been somewhat lost to time. Some say, as this film suggests, that the answer lies with the death five days earlier of gay icon Judy Garland, given those present whilst accustomed to the habitual insults from the police to them, were not going to take any disrespect by the police to Judy. Certainly this is the scenario preferred by many. Then again, does the nature of the spark that ignited the Stonewall flame really matter, when such would culminate in the end of an era in which raids on gay bars were commonplace, police leniency arrived with a price tag attached to it and consensual sex between two men illegal in every State of America bar one.
That a film devoted to the Stonewall riot could have easily fallen into the trap of being more history lesson, than entertainment, goes without saying. Thankfully director Nigel Finch whose final work this was, delivered a piece that walked with considerable skill the tightrope between fact and fiction. Then again, he was aided by a fine cast including Frederick Weller as Matty Dean and indie favorite Guillermo Díaz as La Miranda, coupled with strong support from Bruce MacVittie as Vinnie, the owner of the Stonewall Inn and a man whose tough persona hid his deep love for his transvestite partner Bostonia, as played with sublime elegance by Duane Boutté.
Aided by a series of memorable lip-synching production numbers performed in fab drag queen style, this film, the second in the Stonewall trilogy, in paying a fictionalised homage to the riot itself, equally delivers a story of homosexual love set to a classic '60s soundtrack. This is not to say that this feature is not without its drawbacks and for some this work may not detail the events leading up to the Stonewall riot and the consequences thereafter, to the degree they may wish. Then again, the documentaries
Before Stonewall and After Stonewall aptly address any omissions present. For this is at heart a long overdue cinematic celebration
of the night when Stonewall let its political voice be heard. It's also a lot of fun.