Most Americans have a sizable gap in their historical knowledge when it comes to the history of gays and lesbians in the United States. Before Stonewall (1984) and its sequel After Stonewall (1999) each clock in at about 90 minutes, but this cumulative three hours provides viewers with a wealth of information about the triumphs and tragedies of gays and lesbians over a span of 80 years, and serves as a quick start to further research.Before Stonewall is not only a powerful documentary, but also a priceless historical artifact. The film is rich with interviews of those who were gay and lesbian adults as far back as the 1920s. Many of the the men and women who tell the stories of visiting speakeasies in the 20s and serving in WWII in the 40s are not alive today, 25 years after the film was made. The film describes a time when gays and lesbians were closeted and invisible and just beginning to find each other and themselves. Although, the U.S. still has far to go in granting equal rights to gay and lesbian citizens, it is heartening to see how far the country has come due to the brave struggles of those in the early 20th century.After Stonewall, continues the story where Before Stonewall left off - at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The interviewees tell the story of the great leaps forward in the gay movement, such as electing openly gay officials to public office and repealing anti-gay laws. But they also describe the heartbreak of the massive setbacks, such as the growth of the religious right and AIDS.
Both films are entertaining, educational, and incredibly moving. They are available in VHS format at the San Diego Public Library. Check the website for locations: http://www.sandiego.gov/public-library/. As a Netflix subscriber, I watched the films instantly online (in bed, on my laptop!) The DVD and VHS can also be purchased new and used from Amazon.com.