As I enter the set of the film Stonewall, a sense of surrealism immediately sets in. The cast and crew are standing on a Montreal soundstage in an industrial warehouse on a hot, muggy night in July of last year. They’re here to recreate a crucial bit of gay history. I have to look up as a reminder that what I am seeing is not real. The surrounding set is a meticulously reconstructed Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, circa 1969. The offices of the original alt-weekly newspaper the Village Voice are here, as are a number of local businesses. At the center of it all is the Stonewall Inn, the drinking hole now widely regarded as ground zero for the contemporary LGBT civil rights movement.
And this, as it turns out, is an especially fortuitous night to be on set. The actors are replicating the wee hours of June 28, 1969, when some LGBT patrons of the Stonewall Inn lost their patience with ongoing police harassment. Some have suggested that the death of Judy Garland, whose funeral had been held that very day in 1969, played a part in that night’s events. Whatever it was, something snapped, quite collectively, and after an especially nasty interrogation by police, patrons of the Stonewall Inn began to pick up anything they could — bricks, stones, coins — and hurl it at the police outside the bar. That spark led to five nights of rioting that marked a shift in American civil rights — an event seen as so significant that President Obama cited it in his re-election speech.