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Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson and husband Justin Mikita have come aboard to executive produce Stonewall Forever, a feature documentary centering on the famed LGBTQ institution while marking the 50th anniversary in the ongoing fight for gay rights.
The duo join producer-director Jeffrey Schwarz, who previously made Tab Hunter Confidential and The Fabulous Alan Carr, and exec producer Craig Gartner on the project, which is in the nascent stages but is expected to take advantage of New York City’s Gay Pride festivities that are connected to the famed Stonewall Inn and the June 1969 riots that are seen as kicking off the gay rights movement.
“So much of where the community is today is because of wheels set in motion 50 years ago — and yet in the day of dying retail and Grindr, it is getting harder and harder to keep queer spaces open,” Ferguson tells THR. “We decided together that we wanted to create a documentary for the younger generation — one that tells the importance of queer spaces for gathering both then and now, and why we have to work to preserve these spaces. We hope that it will not only educate and enlighten but also inspire. We always need new leaders and who better to learn from that those who came before us.”
Stonewall was a gay bar in a rough-and-tumble part of 1960s New York City in an era where dancing and public displays of affection with someone of the same sex got a person arrested. Harassment by police was the norm. But when the cops raided the bar on June 28, 1969, officers found patrons is a resisting mood. Things escalated, riots lasted for several nights, and a gay resistance was born.
The documentary aims to use the events of those nights, and its upcoming 50th anniversary celebration, as a jumping-off point to tell the history of gay activism, the triumphs and tragedy in the ensuing decades. Harvey Milk, AIDS, hate crimes, marriage equality and the fight for transgender rights will be touched upon, with interviews with notable activists, artists and influencers from Stonewall, gay liberation and the generations that followed. The filmmakers plans to use rare archival footage and photos, activist videos and home movies, coupled with innovative animation, motion graphics and original music. Tying it all together will be the story of Stonewall Inn itself, which is not just a center of the community but also a business in New York City that has to deal with rising rents and gentrification.
“Every time there is a major event in the community, people go to the Stonewall to celebrate,” says Schwarz. “It’s s place to gather, to celebrate, to mourn, to protest and to party.”
While the filmmakers are still putting the pieces together for Stonewall, the team will be camera ready for its first shoot later this month.
“We are going to be on the frontlines at this year’s NYC gay pride which also happens to be World Pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall,” says Ferguson, who is actively involved in gay rights with his charity, Tie the Knot, while Mikita is participating once again in charity affair AIDS/LifeCycle. “Our main focus is to fully take advantage of documenting that once in a lifetime event.”
And it is an event Schwarz says can’t be taken for granted.
“The movement has always been about moments of triumph and backlash,” he says. “Every time there is progress, it’s followed by pushback. We’re in that moment again. A lot of the progress is being undone. That makes this story even more relevant and urgent to tell.”
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