Book Review: The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman


Author: Lillian Faderman
Title: The Gay Revolution: The Story Of The Struggle
Narrator: Donna Postel
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc, 2015
Summary/Review:

This book provides a historical overview of the gay rights movement in the United States from the post-World War II era to the present.  This sprawling account covers numerous groups, individuals, movements, protests, and legal cases that changed the status for LGBTQ people.  If one thing is clear, there is no one “great person” who lead the struggle, but it was a multi-generational effort of groups of people who stood up for equality.

The book starts in the 1950s when gays & lesbians were not only in danger of arrests, beatings, robbery, and sexual assault at the hands of the local police “Morals Squad,” but a “Lavender Scare” saw the exposure and firing of numerous gay & lesbian people working for the US government.  This occurred at the same time as the more famous “Red Scare,” but may have had an even more widespread and devastating effect.  In 1950, the Mattachine Society organized in Los Angeles as the first activist group to advocate for the rights of gay American citizens, with chapters in other cities established soon afterward.  The Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian civil rights group, was founded in San Francisco in 1956.  Early activism focused on court cases to defend gay people from losing employment, with some success.

The Stonewall Uprising of 1969 was a turning point, where the patrons of the Greenwich Village gay bar – inspired by the Civil Rights and anti-war movements – decided to stand their ground against a police raid.  The multi-day riots kicked off a decade of mass movement protests and pride parades.  The 1970s also saw gay activists take on the American Psychiatric Association to stop having homosexuality classified as a mental disorder.  Communities began to include gays and lesbians in their antidiscrimination codes, which prompted a backlash from conservative Christians.  Most famously, entertainer Anita Bryant lead an anti-gay movement in Florida.  Faderman credits Bryant as an accidental advocate for gay civil rights by bringing attention to their discrimination.

The 1980s is defined by the AIDS crisis and the deaths that devastated a generation of gay people. Faderman notes that AIDS had the effect of strengthening gay rights activism, with the shadow of death making previous infighting seem irrelevant, and prompting people to be greater radicalism. ACT UP, founded in New York in 1987, staged direct action events at government buildings, the New York Stock Exchanged, and churches to bring attention to the lack of action to treat people with AIDS and seek a cure.  (Oddly enough, I had a run in with an angry conservative woman in the early 90s who said that gay men spit out communion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I’d always thought to be bigoted hyperbole, but it turns out it actually happened, although it makes more sense in the context of the protest).

I found the final chapters of the book that cover the 1990s and 2000s less interesting than the rest of the book, perhaps because it covered events that I remember living through.  The focus here shifts from activist people and groups, to government action and becomes more a litany of court cases and presidential campaigns that affected gay civil rights, than the work of the people behind it.  Still, this book is overall a good resource to get the big picture of struggle for LGBTQ equality.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: When They See Us (2019)


Title: When They See Us
Release Date: May 31, 2019
Director: Ava DuVernay
Production Company: Harpo Films | Tribeca Productions | ARRAY | Participant Media
Summary/Review:

This Netflix miniseries dramatizes the stories of five teenage boys from Harlem who were accused and convicted of brutally raping a woman jogging through Central Park, but would be exonerated for the crime over a decade later.  The film covers the same as the Ken Burns’ documentary Central Park Five but with a greater emphasis on the emotional impact on the boys and their families.  When they see is directed by Ava DuVernay, who is also responsible for the biopic Selma, the documentary 13th, and fantasy/adventure A Wrinkle in Time (which is quite a varied portfolio).  While the four parts tell a complete story, each part also works as a stand-alone film.

The first part focuses on the night of the incident.  The media portrayed them as part of a “wolf pack” of “superpredators” who went out “wilding,” commiting crimes for fun. The truth is that the 5 boys and others were caught up in spontaneous gathering of about 30 teenagers who mostly didn’t know one another and went to Central Park to horse around.  And yes, some of them did participate in assault, robbery, and vandalism, but by and large that was a small portion of the larger group.  Oddly, one of the most beautiful scenes in this movie is an overhead shot of the boys running into the park.  The five – Raymond, Kevin, Korey, Yusef, and Antron – were among those rounded up by the police. When the unconcious jogger is found, the police held them overnight without food or sleep, interogate them without parents present, and coerce them to confess to a crime they knew nothing about. The NYC District Attorney Sex Crimes Unit leader Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman) works up a narrative from the skimpy evidence to place the boys at the scene of the crime.

The second part focuses on the trial.  The film only dramatizes one of the two trials.  We see the boys support one another as they resolutely refuse a plea bargain or anything but their full innocence.  There’s support among the families too, but also a lot of tension as what course of action to take and distrust of the other families’ children. Archival footage of Donald Trump condeming the Five is shown with a mother commenting that his fifteen minutes are almost up, perhaps too big of a wink for this movie.  Their lawyers are not up to snuff to take on the city’s prosecuter Elizabeth Lederer (Vera Farmiga) despite the only evidence being coerced confessions that contradict one another. The five are all found guilty.

Part three focuses on the four younger members of the group – Antron, Raymond, Yusef, and Kevin – each of whom serve around 6-7 years in juvenile detention.  The film shows their transition from boys to adults through phone calls and visits with their families.  Then each is released and tries to return to their lives.  There are tensions with family members as they adjust to changes that happened during their imprisonment.  Worse, the law regarding what convicted felons and sex offenders can do leaves them very little opportunity to find work and housing, and require frequent check-ins.  One of them turns to crime to make ends meet and ends up back in prison.

The younger four are played by different actors as a child and as an adult – Kevin Richardson (Asante Black and Justin Cunningham), Antron McCray (Caleel Harris and Jovan Adepo), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse and Chris Chalk), and Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez and Freddy Miyares).  They all put in an excellent performance portraying their characters, but the major star of the miniseries is Jharrel Jerome who plays Korey Wise both as a teenager and an adult.  Wise was 16 at the time of the case and thus tried as an adult.  He was sent to prisons where the other prisoners and guards targeted him for severe abuse.  Wise requested transfers to other prisons farther from NYC and spent lots of time in solitary for his own safety.  In one prison, there’s even a white guard who is sympathetic to wise and treats him humanely.  Many of the most intense scenes of the film focus on Wise enduring long periods of time in solitude and having memories and daydreams. Flashbacks show his close relationship with his transgender older sister until their mother throws her out of the house.  One of the most beautiful sequences shows Wise imaging that instead of going to Central Park with the other boys that he took his girlfriend to Coney Island.

In 2001, Wise meets another prisoner named Matias Reyes (one he’d actually had a fight with in prison several years earlier).  Reyes admits that he had raped the Centeral Park jogger on his own.  His description of the attack and DNA evidence verifies his claim, and this leads to vacating the convictions of Richardson, McCray, Salaam, Santana, and Wise.

This movie is beautifully directed  and yet a brutal depection of a grave injustice. It is an important film to watch to get an understanding of the discriminatory nature of the criminal justice system against black and brown people.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 8


BackStory :: Songs of Ourselves?

Walt Whitman and the American Imagination on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

The Moth :: Mets, McDonalds, and a White House Secret

The story of the author of “Go the F**k to Sleep” ends up at a fundraiser with Dr. Ferber and a family finds a way to get to see the Mets first World Series championship.

Code Switch :: The Original ‘Welfare Queen’

The story of a con artist, child abductor, and possible murderer whose crimes were used to justify to slash welfare safety nets by the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

99% Invisible :: The Automat

When I was a kid, I loved going to the last surviving Automat in New York City, a surviving relic of Old New York.  This podcasts details the 100 year history of the innovative Horn & Hardart restaurants in Philadelphia and New York that became a cultural touchstone.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 1


Futility Closet :: The General Slocum

The grim history of the worst maritime disaster in New York City.

Best of the Left :: Our built environment shapes society and vice versa

The issues of increasing urban density, building social housing, and deprioritizing the automobile in cities are near and dear in my heart. And yet, even Leftists tend to fall into the pro-car/pro-sprawl trap, so it’s good to hear these arguments for a more livable urbanism.

Hub History  ::  Love is Love: John Adams and Marriage Equality 

It seems like yesterday, but 15 years have passed since Massachusetts became the first state to perform legal same-sex marriages.  Here’s the history of how that came to be.

Sound Opinions  ::  De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising

I have a lot of nostalgia for De La Soul’s debut album which came out when I was a nerdy high school student.  The Sound Opinions crew explore how the album was created and explain why it’s so hard to find the album today.

Hit Parade :: The Invisible Miracle Sledgehammer Edition

If you turned on the radio in the mid-1980s, you were likely to hear music by members of Genesis (Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Mike and the Mechanics) while the band Genesis continued to make hits.  Chris Molanphy explains this unusual situation in pop music history.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Remembering Tony Horwitz


I just learned that journalist and author Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite writers, died today at the young age of 60.

Horwitz’s writing was part history, part participatory journalism,  and part travelogue – three things I love to read, so naturally I enjoyed reading the combination of all three.  He had a way of bridging past and present, and shaking the assumptions we have about history.  He will be missed.

Here are the Horwitz books I’ve read with links to reviews:

I also learned that he just released a new book earlier this month called Spying on the South, which is about Frederick Law Olmsted of all people, a strange confluence of my interests.  Rest assured I’ll be reading that soon!

Photopost: Cooperstown


My son and I took an overnight trip during spring break to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  This is my fourth trip to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.  I have mixed feelings about Cooperstown.  On the one hand, Cooperstown is an absolutely gorgeous village and its fun to drive the winding roads through scenic farmland to get to the town and its excellent museums.  On the other hands, the story of baseball being invented in Cooperstown is completely fabricated, and places with much better claims on being the place where baseball was invented in New York City, New Jersey, and New England would be a lot easier to get to for most visitors.  Cooperstown needs the Hall of Fame more than the Hall of Fame needs Cooperstown.

That being said we had a great time walking through the town that was largely empty of people, visiting the baseball memorabilia stores, and taking in the exhibits at the Hall of Fame.  I took a lot of photographs including the plaques of all my favorite Hall of Famers and posted them in this web album.

A stately church building.
A cheerful yellow house.
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League uniforms.
The hats worn by Nolan Ryan for each of his no-hitters.
Statue of Ted Williams.
The Phillie Phanatic trapped in a glass box.
Peter pays due reverences to the 2018 World Series Champion Red Sox exhibit.

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending May 4th


30 for 30 Podcasts :: Ahead Of Their Time: Long Ball Soccer

This story tells of how Charles Reep used statistical analysis to create a new style of playing soccer, and doomed English football to mediocrity for a generation, because the math was off.

WBUR News :: Do Prosecutors Have Too Much Power?

Laws in the 80s and 90s that took away discretionary power from judges inadvertently gave those powers to prosecutors instead, and now America’s criminal justice system is not operating in the fair and just manner it should.  Author Emily Bazelon and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins talk about the problems of overly powerful prosecutors and possible reforms.

BackStory :: Red in the Stars and Stripes

Comrades, socialism has a long and illustrious history in the United States.  Did you know that Milwaukee had a socialist mayor all through the 1950s?  I’m pretty sure it didn’t get mention on Happy Days.

99% Invisible :: Uptown Squirrel

Squirrels are so commonplace among urban fauna that most people give them very little thought.  But in the 19th century, squirrels were considered exotic and weren’t found in urban parks at all.  This episode explores how that changed and why it’s important to investigate scientifically the squirrel populations in places like New York’s Central Park today.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending April 14


The Memory Palace :: Jackie Mitchell

The story of the first woman to play on a professional baseball team, most famous for pitching in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees and striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Hidden Brain :: Radically Normal: How Gay Rights Activists Changed The Minds Of Their Opponents

The acceptance of LGBTQ people in the United States has improved radically in a short period of time.  Hidden Brain explores what brought about the change in attitudes, and questions why other groups discriminated against have not seen as much positive change.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Birdsong

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?  Perhaps because they have something important to say.

99% Invisible :: Froebel’s Gifts

The origins of kindergarten date to the late 18th-century when Friedrich Froebel came up with the idea of teaching young children through the structured use of educational toys.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice (1989) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “I” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “I” documentaries I’ve reviewed are I Am Big Bird and I Am Not Your Negro.

Title: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
Release Date: 1989
Director:William Greaves
Production Company: William Greaves Productions for the American Experience
Summary/Review:

Ida Bell Wells was born into slavery during the Civil War.  After emancipation her parents were active in politics during the Reconstruction period before segregation laws were established. When her parents died of yellow fever, Wells became a teacher to support her siblings. A turning point in her life came in 1884 when Wells was asked to leave the ladies car and go to the crowded smoking car on a train.  She was dragged from the train as white women passengers jeered her.

Wells became a journalist and wrote articles about anti-segregation and began investigating lynching.  The stories of lynchings of black men insisted that they were killed in response to their sexual assaults on white women.  Wells uncovered that in reality the victims of lynching owned property that white men desired or ran businesses that competed with white-owned businesses.  Wells received so many death threats in response to her investigative journalism that she relocated to Chicago.  There she continued to remain a journalist and activist against segregation and for women’s suffrage.  In fact she was a gadfly even to prominent African-American activists like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois

This documentary is a straightforward, low-budget approach that features historic images and commentary from contemporary experts (including a descendant of Ida B. Wells).  The best parts of this production are excerpts from Wells’ writing read by Toni Morrison.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This documentary was made 30 years ago, but Wells’ life and mission are still not as well-known as they deserve to be.  In the past few years, there have been efforts to bring Wells’ legacy into the broader cultural consciousness.  This movie is a good primer on her life and signifigance.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Look into the project to build and Ida B. Wells Monument in Chicago, and perhaps make a donation.

Source: Kanopy

Rating: ****


 

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Book Review: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn


Author: Howard Zinn
Title: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Narrator: David Strathairn
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc, 2017 (originally published in 1994)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I received an advanced review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This book serves as an autobiography of the historian and activist Howard Zinn, and intersects with America’s history of inequality and imperialism, as well as the work of activists towards justice and equality.  Zinn grew up poor in Brooklyn and worked at the Brooklyn Naval Yard where he formed bonds with the other laborers.  He signed up with the Army Air Force during World War II in order to fight fascism, but was also exposed to segregation in the armed forces and participated in a napalm bombing raid in France that he felt was more of a show of American military might than a strategical necessity.

Zinn began his academic career at Spellman College in Atlanta in 1956 where he served as a mentor to Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.  He also became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Zinn was fired for insubordination in 1963, and accepted a professorship at Boston University in 1964.  Zinn’s arrival BU coincided with the movement against the war in Vietnam of which he became an active leader.  Zinn’s courses were extremely popular but he also had to contend with prickly and conservative BU president, John Silber.

Despite the dominance of inequality and opression in the world, Zinn remains optomistic.  He sees the changes made in people in the various movements as a net positive.  He notes that while tyranny is a danger in a short term it also will be defeated by the people in the long term.

Recommended books: This is an Uprising by Mark Engler
Rating: ***1/2