As Published on The 26 LGBTQ.
A Long Road To Freedom: The Advocate Celebrates 50 Years is a moving documentary directed by William Clift that gives the audience firsthand accounts and never-before-seen archival footage and imagery of watershed moments in LGBTQ history. The film covers everything from the Black Cat Riots, Stonewall, the disco sexual revolution, the AIDS crisis, marriage equality, and the trans movement to the present day.
“It sprang with what’s been happening with our political climate,” said director William Clift. “I am a filmmaker who typically only made comedies and asked, what can I do? How can I add a voice? What can I make people do? I heard about the Black Cat and what had happened with the raid and that two months later there was this huge protest of 500 or 600 people and this was something that no one really knew about.”
The documentary began as an opportunity to record more information about The Black Cat Tavern, which was an LGBT bar located at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset Junction neighborhood of the Silver Lake district in Los Angeles. The raid of the bar and the subsequent horrific beatings from the LAPD officers came before the Sunset Strip curfew riots, the movement in Los Angeles which grew from the event, and Stonewall.
“The Black Cat raid predated Stonewall by two years,” said the film’s producer David Millbern. “Stonewall was in ’69, and not too many people know that the grassroots gay rights movement really started in Los Angeles in ’67 at The Black Cat.”
Clift and Millbern went on to talk about The Advocate, the oldest and largest LGBTQ publication in the United States and the only surviving one of its kind. The Advocate was founded two years before the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, an incident that is generally credited as the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement.
The Advocate was at The Black Cat during the raids, and documented the incident though no one else would. The documentary touches upon this fact and gathers the rich pieces of history that don’t often get talked about in schools. The film employs the help of The Advocate archives, Here TV, (who invested funding in the film), and many LGBTQ civil rights leaders who were present during this significant events. The documentary has ended up becoming a complete documentation of the LGBTQ history of the last 50 years because of this.
A Long Road To Freedom seamlessly carries out interviews from notable figures, such as Ricky Martin, Caitlyn Jenner, and Margaret Cho, and engaging first-hand accounts from key individuals such as Cleve Jones, Thomas K. Duane, and Ivy Bottini. The documentary not only educates its viewers, but captures the attention of the audience with a message that encourages the celebration of achievements and serves as a call to action in the current political landscape. As the audience walks away from the theater filmmaker, William Clift, hopes they will be as inspired as he was upon delving into the rich history of the LGBTQ community.
“This film, I really believe will assist in motivating people,” said Clift. “We are talking about people who fought so hard to get rights, and we have gotten so many, but just think about where they were 50 years before when it was completely against the law to be anything that they were. And here we are. We have so many rights, and we do have so much opposition, but the reality is if they could do it we can do it because we can really push our voice and we have many allies.
We talk about this one raid, but that was just a nightly thing in Los Angeles, and for every city for gay establishments. The raid was normal, but this one, in particular, happened to be the one the one that spawned this amazing protest.”
Those who watch the film learn about some of the earliest activists of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. These activists are still around to fight for the rights of not only LGBTQ folx, but for the rights of all marginalized members of society. These same individuals are featured in the movie at Black Lives Matter protests and urging others to come together to help support and fight for equality for everyone.
“Not only did we have the celebs that wanted to be on board and speak out for the movement, but we had people like Alexei Romanoff, Ivy Bottini, Nadia Sutton,” said Millbern. “We have the people, the boots on the ground that were there participating in activism way before any of us who laid their lives and careers on the line to start this movement.”
Many people have gone above and beyond to fight for what is right, risking their lives and making countless sacrifices for the next generation to one day have a better life. The film artfully reveals how the community has come a long way and also reminds us that we still have a long way to go.
The documentary, narrated by Laverne Cox and with music by Melissa Etheridge, premiered on July 19th at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater benefiting Outfest Los Angeles and will be shown on Here TV after the festival run followed by a 20-city theatrical release.