Pomona College Professor Wins $150K Grant and Broadcast Agreement for His Documentary "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Comptonâ€™sCafeteria"
"Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria," written and directed by Victor Silverman, an associate professor of history at Pomona College, and Susan Stryker, a renowned scholar of transgender history, has been awarded a $150,000 in post-production support from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and KQED Television. The ITVS grant was one of only six awarded nationally for 2004.
The documentary, which is produced by Silverman, Stryker and Emmy Award-winner Jack Walsh, tells the story of the first known act of militant transsexual resistance to social oppression. In 1966, three years before the more famous uprising at New York’s Stonewall Inn, transgender street prostitutes in San Francisco’s impoverished Tenderloin district fought back against a police raid at Compton’s Cafeteria, a popular all-night neighborhood hang-out.
“They started the movement for transgender rights, really for basic human rights, to be who you are, to wear what you want to wear, and to live the way you want to live,” explains Silverman. “The riot was the point at which the movement crystallized. From that point on, transgender and transsexual people were willing to fight for their rights. The riot really marked the beginning of a broader movement to support freedom of gender expression.”
The completed documentary will premier in spring 2005, on KQED Television (San Francisco), consistently one of the most-watched public television station in the nation in prime time. The film has already been shown as a work-in-progress at festivals in Amsterdam, London, Toronto, San Francisco, and New York.
The first act of Screaming Queens introduces a diverse cast of former street queens, drag entertainers, police officers, ministers, and neighborhood activists. They recount the story of the difficult conditions, as well as the sense of solidarity among the neighborhood’s transgender residents.
The second act shows the connection between transgender militancy and the larger social upheavals affecting the Tenderloin in the 1960s: the civil rights and sexual liberation movements, the youth counterculture, urban renewal, and Great Society anti-poverty programs.
The third act explores the reverberations, both large and small, of the rise of transgender activism, a story in which the riot at Compton’s cafeteria plays a pivotal role. It shows how, at the local level, transgender people were able to link their specific grievances with a greater social justice agenda. Many of those accomplishments were lost to history until the making this film.
“Screaming Queens“ ends on a high note, by suggesting how transgender activism in the 1960s helped transform American culture in subtle and profound ways--changes as obvious as clothing and hair styles, as pervasive as gender-bending pop stars; invisible as new bureaucratic procedures for changing name and gender on government documents; and as inspiring as a new wave of transgender activism.
“The grant is a great feather in my cap and Susan’s cap, as historians and filmmakers,” says Silverman. “But what these people did at Compton’s was so important, that to get that recognized is the real achievement. One of the things we’ve learned is that making a documentary is much more complicated than we imagined, but it is tremendously rewarding.”
Silverman has been a member of the faculty at Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, since 1993. He teaches courses on the U.S. since the Civil War; U.S. labor and working class history; the history of the U.S. Right: countersubversion and counterterrorism; the U.S., Palestine, and Israel; the U.S. and the world from 1890 to the present; and the international history of the Cold War.
Among Silverman’s areas of expertise are San Francisco Bay Area and California history, the history of sexual and gender minorities, international labor movements, and the Cold War. His most recent publications include “Imagining Internationalism in American and British Labor, 1939-1949” (2000); “The Failure of Jewish Americanization” in Jewish Locations (2001); and, as historian, “Los Angeles Times Front Pages Collections” (2003). He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Susan Stryker is the author of numerous works, including: “The Transgender Studies Reader” (forthcoming), “Queer Pulp” ( 2001) and “Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area” (1996). The former executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, Stryker received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She recently returned from Australia where she was a visiting fellow at Macquarie University, Department of Critical and Cultural Studies.
Jack Walsh is an Emmy Award-winning producer and independent filmmaker. Among his credits are: “and then one night: The Making of Dead Man Walking” (2002), “Independent View” (2001), and “Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay” (2003). Most recently, he executive produced Girl Trouble, a film that followed three teenage girls for four years as they navigated San Francisco's juvenile justice system.
ITVS funds, distributes and promotes new programs primarily for public television, working with independent producers to create and present programs that take creative risks, advance issues and represent points of view not usually seen on public or commercial television. The $75,000 ITVS portion of the grant for “Screaming Queens” came from its Local Independents Collaborating with Stations (LInCS) Fund, which provides incentive or matching moneys to partnerships between public television stations and independent producers. "More information about ITVS and its LInCS program is available online at www.itvs.org."
Associate Professor of History
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Pomona College, one of the country’s top liberal arts colleges, offers a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Founded in 1887, its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, a range of opportunities for student research, and a stimulating residential atmosphere.
KQED Public Broadcasting operates KQED Public Television 9, one of the nation's most-watched public television stations during prime-time, and KQED's five digital television channels; KQED Public Radio, the most-listened-to public radio station in the nation (88.5 FM in San Francisco and 89.3 FM in Sacramento); KQED.org, one of the most visited station sites in Public Broadcasting; and KQED Education Network, which brings the impact of KQED to thousands of teachers, students, parents and media professionals.