Kate Davis: Stonewall Riot Girl

With husband and filmmaking partner David Heilbroner, celebrated documentarian Kate Davis tackles the ugly truth about the Stonewall riots in Stonewall Uprising. Why? Ask her ex-girlfriend.

BY Brandon Voss

June 16 2010 1:00 PM ET

KATE DAVIS BODY2 X390 (CORBIS) | ADVOCATE.COMYou also spoke to the NYPD officer who led the Stonewall raid, but your most controversial interview subject might be former New York City councilman and mayor Ed Koch.
Yes, he will not be everybody’s friend, but I’ll tell you why we have Ed Koch. It’s not a film about his often very questionable political actions at the time — he was on record for supporting crackdowns — so it wasn’t a Frost/Nixon situation where we were out to get Ed Koch. In my mind, it was important to get him to legitimize the claims we’re making in the film that the New York government and police force were really out to get gay people, and Ed Koch admits that was the case.

Why does your film make no mention of the prevalent myth regarding Judy Garland’s death and funeral as a possible catalyst for the riots?
We asked every single participant about Judy Garland, and we would’ve included it if anybody had said it was fire on the match, but no one did. As a matter of fact, one person interviewed in the film was actually at Judy Garland’s funeral, and even he said, “Look, we were street kids. We loved her, but there was a larger anger at play here.”

Was your ultimate goal to make a film with mainstream crossover appeal, or were you content to document gay history primarily for gay audiences?
I believe it can reach everybody on different levels. It’s been very gratifying at various festival screenings to see how many gay people, older and younger, have been amazed at how little they knew about the riots or the laws in place at the time. For some, it’s a nostalgic way to remember their childhood, both the pain and the humor that was used as a defense. But like Milk, if I may be so bold to use that as an example, this film is a good story, an important story, and it should become a much firmer part of American history. I hope this film educates and inspires people to see that while the battle isn’t over, we’ve clearly come a long way. So part of our larger goal was to help make gay history American history. Why isn’t this being taught in our schools? It should be up there with Rosa Parks. Gay youth, even if they’re focused on the gay marriage debate, may not really know where we came from. One kid said to me, “Oh, I think I’ve heard of Stonehenge.”

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