I wonder how many people today, gay or straight, have even heard of the Stonewall Riots, that famous time when a group of people in New York decided they'd had enough of police harassment. By all accounts, the Stonewall Inn wasn't the best atmosphere in the world--it didn't even have running water behind the bar--but it was the only club in town where men could dance with one another. Despite repeated bribes, it was still raided pretty regularly. One night, the regulars decided they'd had enough. Contrary to anyone's expectations, they actually by-Gods rioted. Initially, they even got the police to withdraw. It's really a fascinating story, and I encourage you to look into it. However, [i]After Stonewall[/i], obviously spends very little time on Stonewall itself.
What is the movie's focus is how the riots changed the world. Many of those interviewed had been part of the gay scene before the riots, too, but Stonewall redefined their world. Gay rights were suddenly an issue, with the placid, nondemonstrative groups of previous years giving forth to true activism. After Stonewall, there was the Gay Liberation Front. There was Harvey Milk. There were parades and heroes. And, inevitably, there was AIDS and the loss of a generation of potentially great gay men (lesbians have been hit much less hard by the disease, for obvious reasons). There was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Finally, there was the lesbian chic of the '90s, when the film was made.
It's a lot to cover in 88 minutes. Necessarily, many things get touched on lighter than many others. Harvey Milk gets mentioned, but not much about him is told. Barney Frank tells some of his own story, but he doesn't get all that much more time than Harvey. The lesbian experience seems to be shown more often than that of gay men, but there isn't enough imbalance for me to get all that upset about it. There is definitely discussion of how hard it was for lesbians in the gay rights movement, where they were "just girls," and in the women's rights movement, where they were "dangerous to the cause." The final story of the movie is the struggle for gay marriage, which is still going ten years later.
Obviously, how much you like this movie is going to depend in part on your political stance. However, being as objective as possible, I think it's pretty good. There's a lot of archive footage employed here, and those interviewed are from a relatively wide swathe of the community. It's true that mostly, they're people you've heard of--Frank, for example, and Rita Mae Brown, not to mention narrator Melissa Etheride. However, they did have to find these people, and it's always easier to get in touch with the famous than to find regular folks with good stories to tell and the will to tell them. It's not a perfect film, but I think it's important.
When I reviewed [i]Before Stonewall[/i], I speculated on the changes between Stonewall and the making of [i]Before Stonewall[/i]. The two movies were made a few years apart, meaning there's less change from when it was made than when the first one was made. However, in either case, I don't think it's all that much. In some ways, indeed, we've gone backwards with the current passage of Proposition Eight. What has amazed me most about the things I've learned recently is that the only country in the world that guarantees equal rights for gays is South Africa. Gay marriage is legal there, too.