Hollywood and the Sexual Revolution



1995 Fictional Feature from the BBC

based on the book Stonewall by Martin Duberman

Connie's Presentations

Slide 1

Scott's Handouts

Gay Rights Time Line

Gay Rights Movements (as a .pdf file)

Comparison between the film Stonewall and the historical record (as a .pdf file) (as a Microsoft Word .docx file)

Scott's Clips

Social context before the Stonewall Riots, 1969

For many of us, it is hard to remember how completely oppressive the culture was toward gay people before 1969. The following magazine article and two video clips will give some idea of the accepted "facts" about gay people, and how the culture interpreted those facts.

Mainstream media: Time Magazine, "The Homosexual in America", October 31, 1969

Time Magazine's cover story on "The Homosexual in America" is a pretty good gauge of the standard thought at the time. If you go to the "discussion" at the end, you'll see that some people, like Frank Kameny (one of the great Gay Rights pioneers), totally get it, while other "experts", such as Dr. Charles Socarides, are just homophobes in academic disguise. Notice also that even though the title states "Homosexual", almost everything is about gay males. Lesbians were almost completely ignored. This article is dated October 31st, 1969, four months after the Stonewall Riots and on Halloween, the gay holiday! I wonder of editors at Time realized the irony.

Time Magazine, "The Homosexual in America", October 31, 1969 (as a .pdf file)

Mainstream media: CBS Reports with Mike Wallace, "The Homosexuals". 1967

CBS Reports presented one of the first in-depth network television programs about homosexuality in 1967. Much like the Time Magazine article immediately above, it is reflective of its time. While trying to be "balanced", it simply reflected the deeply embedded institutionalized homophobia when it was made. Also like the Time article above, Lesbians are completely ignored. The core problem of both the Time article and this CBS program is their treatment of gay people as "the other", and not simply people like "us" within society. This program has been much reviled by Gay Rights activists ever since it came out, and Mike Wallace much later in his life apologized for it.

CBS Reports, "The Homosexuals", excerpts from 1967 network television program, about 9 3/4 minutes long.
This edited version starts with a sympathetic presentation of how Draconian the laws were back then (except Illinois, of course), and then follows with an extended intercut "debate" between Gore Vidal and a homophobic Columbia University professor. The homophobic professor gets the last word, of course. Notice how Gore Vidal can't even identify Tennessee Williams by name.
The left box has the clip in standard .mp4 format, and the right box has the identical clip in Apple Quicktime .mov format.

YouTube version of the entire program: CBS Reports with Mike Wallace, "The Homosexuals"

sExploitation media: Chained Girls, 1965

This movie is purportedly a documentary about Lesbianism, but is really made for the titillation (and possibly more) of straight men in the 42nd Street sex theatres in New York and their equivalent in other large cities. It is as close to outright pornography as was legal to show back then (not much by modern standards). However, such films have been de-constructed as part of film history and film studies, and they definitely are illuminating snapshots of cultural values, however unintentional. Here is an article from Bright Lights Film Journal, Chained Girls (1965): A Twilight Tale of the Third Sex.

Chained Girls, excerpts from 1965 sexploitation movie, about 4 minutes long.
This edited version just shows the purported "scientific facts", mainly there to satisfy the pornography laws of the time. Most people back then, however, would accept these "facts" as accurate, appropriate, and fairly presented.
The left box has the clip in standard .mp4 format, and the right box has the identical clip in Apple Quicktime .mov format.

YouTube version of the entire movie: Chained Girls (1965)

Transgendered Presence before the Stonewall Riots, 1969

The following documentary gives a glimpse into trans culture just before 1969, back when a transgendered person could be arrested for just walking down the street. It shows the reality depicted fictionally in Stonewall. It also features Flawless Sabrina in her prime. Now Mother Flawless Sabrina, she is still active, interesting, and increasingly honoured.

The Queen

The Queen (1968)

66 Minute Documentary. It was only released on VHS, now out of print, and is very hard to find. However, you can watch the entire movie here on YouTube. The quality is mediocre, but watchable. It is obviously an upload from a digital rip of a VHS copy.

Roger Ebert's original 1969 review: Click here for his review.

Mother Flawless Sabrina was recently interviewed by James St. James (one of the New York City Club Kids of the 1990's and subject of the movie Party Monster).
Click here for the interview
on the World of Wonder website.

Print interview of Mother Flawless Sabrina
on the Whitney Museum of American Art website.

Profile of Mother Flawless Sabrina
on the Dazed website.

Other Movies in this Category that You Might Enjoy

Stonewall Uprising

Stonewall Uprising (2010)

Scott's Comments:
This one hour, made for PBS documentary skilfully shows the oppression and general zeitgeist leading up to the Stonewall Riots in 1969. It has interviews with many of the surviving principals, including some from the New York City police. Excellent.


Milk (2008)

Description from The Advocate magazine's The Top 175 Essential Films of All Time for LGBT Viewers:
Milk (2008): This film about the life and death of pioneering gay politician Harvey Milk won two richly deserved Oscars, for Dustin Lance Black's screenplay and Sean Penn's performance in the title role. It does not make Milk a plaster saint, but portrays him as fully and fallibly human as well as a formidable crusader for the rights of all. Directed by Gus Van Sant, it's a film that moves and inspires, while assuring that a new generation will know an important figure in our history. -Trudy Ring

Scott's Comments:
Excellent biopic about the second most important and influential events in modern gay history. A good pairing with Stonewall.

Before Stonewall

Before Stonewall (1984)

New York Times review of Before Stonewall:

Scott's Comments:
Documentary about gay life before 1969. One of the earliest explorations of the subject and still one of the best. Followed by a companion documentary After Stonewall in 1999.

The Gay Deceivers

The Gay Deceivers (1969)

Scott's Comments:
This movie is one of my top "guilty pleasures". Considering it was made just before the Stonewall Riots, and released the same year, it is an amazing movie. It has some typical stereotypical thinking and underlying homophobia from its time period, but it was definitely not made from a position of hostility toward gays. It's a B-Movie goof -- a typical "groovy generation" exploitation flick. It has a wonderfully fresh portrayal of the stock "sissy" character by actor Michael Greer, who had a respectable career in acting and stand up comedy. Although the two lead characters are just "playing gay" to stay out of the Army, their reaction to the various gay situations they get themselves into is just bewilderment, not anger or hostility. They are more worried about everyone else's reactions, including the Army's. As a simple, funny farce, it works quite well. I showed this movie to a group of gay men, admittedly with some trepidation about what their reactions would be, and they loved it.

Out of the Closet - LGBTQ Portrayals in Movies After the Stonewall Riots (1969)

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Connie Hossier, Instructor
Scott Badman, Instructor