On 'American Experience: The Stonewall Riots' 


8 p.m. Monday, April 25


n I had a chance to watch a preview copy of PBS's new documentary "American Experience: The Stonewall Riots," and what a film it is — the chronicle of courageous people standing up for their rights in the face of tyranny. Tyranny? Yes, that's a very carefully-selected word on my part. The first 20 minutes of the doc are devoted to setting the stage, rebuilding the world of terror, harassment and fear that gays and lesbians lived in the days before Stonewall. Included are clips of anti-homosexual films shown in public schools that are nothing short of propaganda that would do the Third Reich proud. In those films, gays and lesbians — called everything from sexual deviants to the mentally ill — are depicted as something like a cross between Dracula and the monster under the bed; lurking, anonymous things that will reach out, snatch you away from Mom and apple pie, and turn you into the thing you fear most if you let your heterosexual guard down, even for an instant. The lengths gays and lesbians went to to find privacy from prying, puritanical eyes in those days are enough to make any American ashamed, with gay men speaking of meeting for sex in reeking, unwashed meat-hauling trucks in New York City because they smelled so bad that the police officers were reluctant to raid them.

Then came Stonewall. On a hot June night in 1969, the modern gay rights movement — and maybe the concept of gay rights itself — was born when the NYPD raided a mob-owned gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn. Whereas the patrons of New York City's gay nightclubs usually put their heads down and tromped off to the paddy wagons whenever the cops decided to go on a headline-grabbing raid, this time something was different. Before it was all over, hundreds of straights and gays had banded together against the brutality of the police and a full-scale riot had broken out. Soon, the cops were the ones running scared. To think that some conservatives would be perfectly happy to see gays and lesbians go back to the terrified and tormented days before the Stonewall Riots is an affront to everything America stands for. Watch this moving documentary, and I'm sure you'll agree. It's a rarely examined corner of the struggle for civil rights in America, and a must see.


n I was initially a bit iffy on the FX show "Sons of Anarchy," the "Hamlet"-meets-bikers-and-gun-running extravaganza about a stepfather (Ron Perlman as Clay Morrow) and son (Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller) fighting for control of both the soul and leadership of a Southern California motorcycle club called the Sons of Anarchy (or, as they often go by, SAMCRO, which stands for Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original; I spent a half-dozen episodes puzzling over that before I finally Googled it). Like the whole biker scene, it all looked a bit too gritty for my tastes, full of guys strutting and growling and preening in their leathers while breaking every law known to man short of bi-species marriage and unlicensed dentistry. Not my thing, I thought. My wife started watching the series, however (mostly due, I think, to the undeniably dishy Hunnam, who looks like Brad Pitt's less-than-reputable cousin), and — as often happens — I started watching too. Now, just as with another FX drama, Denis Leary's searing New York firefighter dramedy "Rescue Me," I'm hooked. Show producer and head writer Kurt Sutter, who cut his teeth writing for "The Shield," has taken an idea that could have been a testosterone-burning sausagefest and made something a lot more interesting out of it — a kind of a hymn to the American spirit and fraternal brotherhood. Perlman and Hunnam shoulder most of the dramatic load (their characters can barely stand each other most of the time, largely because Morrow stepped in as leader of the Sons of Anarchy and married Jax's mother a bit too soon after Jax's dad died under some very mysterious circumstances), but the beauty of the series is its stellar cast of supporting characters, including Kim Coates as unrepentant pervert and dangerous man Tig; the large, good natured and wholly-loyal Opie (Ryan Hurst); resident sage and level-head Bobby Elvis (Mark Boone Jr.) and others. The clear standout, however, is Katey Sagal as the club's resident matriarch/den mother Jemma Teller. What Sagal does with that character, especially after a shocking incident in the opener of Season Two that I won't spoil for you, is a thing to behold. It's some of the best acting on TV. In short: "Sons of Anarchy" is everything TV ought to be, with great writing, a stellar cast, and some of the best plotlines in the business. A warning, though: even if you've never been astride of a motorcycle in your life, it will definitely make you want to buy a vest and a Harley and hit the road.

David Koon


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