Sep 19 2011

 

 

Sons 

Every once in a while comes a documentary that you just know should be required viewing.

Such is the case with the amazingly informative "The Sons of Tennessee Williams" by Tim Wolff. He uses the 40th anniversary of the founding of the first gay Mardi Gras "Krewe of Yuga" in 1959 to tell the story of four decades of fighting for liberation in New Orleans. The documentary provides an extraordinary history of fighting for freedom that starts ten years before Stonewall. At the same time, the film entertains us with the glorious pageantry that is gay Mardi Gras.

The atmosphere in New Orleans for homosexuals in the 1950's was so oppressive that the mere touching of another man would lead directly to jail with your name and address printed in the newspapers. Any man that appeared in public or private in drag was a prime target for arrest. In 1958 three Tulane students were acquitted of the beating death of Fernando Rios because the defense argued that gays had a 'freakishly fragile eggshell skull' and thus the students didn't mean to kill the victim!

Despite such horrible atmosphere a ball was held in a rented hall in Metairie outside of New Orleans. As the evening proceeded the police raided the private party and began to arrest the entire crowd. Participants poured out the back door, jumping over fences in gowns, hiding in trees and in sewer pipes with the snakes. Police were able to locate some of the fugitives by shining their spotlights looking for reflections from the tiaras. Everyone's name appeared in the paper in a section titled "Crimes Against Nature."

Figuring out that it was legal for men to dress as women during Mardi Gras as long as you were a registered "Krewe" (official Mari Gras club), the gays formed the "Krewe of Yuga". Every year they had some of the most elaborate balls ever held doing the famed celebration. Eventually other gay "Krewe's" formed and straight people angled for tickets to see some of the most extraordinary costumes seen anywhere in the United States.

When homophobic District Attorney Jim Garrison sought re-election, his opponent Harry Connick, Sr. (yes, the singer's father) went and sought the support of the gay Krewe's for the first time ever in New Orleans. They organized and help Connick defeat Garrison and began ending decades of police raids.

Amazingly footage of the balls go back almost the entire forty years and takes ones breath away. The interviews with the brave pioneers are moving and often amusing. Without question forty years of LGBT history is contained beautifully in this film.

You would be doing yourself a disservice not to head down on October 7th to the Quad Cinemas on West 13th Street in New York City. The hope is for the film to go national shortly thereafter. Keep your fingers crossed for this one because it should be seen by every LGBT American and all of our allies.