Just when you thought you could write off North Carolina’s Center for Public Television as completely unconcerned about the gay-and-lesbian community, UNC-TV up and offers an unprecedented display of fair programming judgment. During the month of June, four award-winning documentary films about the development of gay liberation and activism in this country are being shown: Before Stonewall (aired on June 5); its sequel, After Stonewall; The Castro; and Golden Threads all chronicle gay history in sometimes unexpected ways.
• After Stonewall: From the Riots to the Millennium (airing on Saturday, June 19 at 1 p.m.) picks up where its predecessor (which chronicled gay life from the 1920s to the Stonewall riots of 1969) left off, filling in the rest of the story — from Harvey Milk to Matthew Shepard, and then some. It celebrates the newfound freedom and self-expression that burst forth from the uproarious ’70s and remembers the tragedies of an AIDS-plagued ’80s. The film depicts the beginnings of the concentrated political power gays and lesbians have come to wield in the ’90s — and the backlash of hostility and persecution. After Stonewall also features impressive interviews with such notables as Melissa Etheridge and Armistead Maupin.
• Diversity is a central issue in The Castro (airing on Saturday, June 26 at 1:30 p.m.). The 90-minute Peabody Award-winner takes us on a magical mystery tour of the gay mecca in the heart of San Francisco. Among other issues, the film discusses the alienation women and people of color have often felt in this male-dominated community. It also tells the moving tale of how the Castro district reunited in the face of the AIDs crisis. Much of the history included in The Castro is similar to what’s in the Stonewall films, but the context here provides some interesting new perspectives. One unique twist is the juxtaposition of interviews with both long-time and new Castro residents with those of former residents of “Eureka Valley,” as the area was known before the influx of gays. The Castro also offers tasty little trivia tidbits: Did you know a gay couple (Douglass Cross and George Cory) wrote “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”? Much more than a travelogue, The Castro is the story of a neighborhood, a movement and a people.
• If The Castro displays a decidedly male bent, Golden Threads (airing on Saturday, July 10 at 11 p.m.) more than makes up for it. This refreshing one-hour film, an installment of the PBS series P.O.V., captures the ninth-annual celebration of Golden Threads, a worldwide network for lesbians over 50. The film, written and directed by Lucy Winer, profiles the group’s founder — 90-year-old Christine Burton. Winer’s decision to use her own mid-life crisis as a foil for these women — who not merely embrace, but even celebrate, their “old age” — doesn’t work all that well. But the footage of Burton and the other women profiled is fascinating, hilarious, thought-provoking and beautifully unsentimental.
It’s refreshing to see that UNC-TV considers these stories important, given its history with gay-oriented programming. After canceling the In the Life series, making a fuss over Tales of the City and now waffling on a decision about the gay-themed documentary It’s Elementary, the airing of these films seems to constitute a show of good faith. And who knows? Viewers just might learn a little something, too.