Films chronicle gay rights from Stonewall to U.S. Supreme Court

Fri Sep 18, 2015 5:26pm EDT
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By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO (Reuters) - The fight for gay rights was sparked by demonstrations against a heavy-handed police raid on a New York nightclub in 1969, and registered a coda this year with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex marriage is legal across the country.

Amid a rush of films exploring gender and sexuality at the Toronto International Film Festival this month are two stories that neatly bookend the nearly half-century of struggle.

"Stonewall" is a fictional take on the real-life riots that brought gay liberation onto the streets. "Freeheld" tells the true story of Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police officer who was dying of cancer a decade ago when she fought a legal battle to pass her pension benefits on to her same-sex partner.

Oscar winner Julianne Moore plays Hester and Ellen Page portrays Stacie Andree, a young mechanic who helps Hester get over her fear of revealing her sexuality to her fellow cops.

"They're incredibly inspiring people who did something so important in a time of difficulty and sadness that I can't even personally imagine," said Page.

Cast and crew from both "Freeheld" and "Stonewall" spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the festival, which concludes this weekend and also includes films about LGBT pioneers and teenage coming-of-age stories such as "Closet Monster" and "Girls Lost".

Transgender narratives drew Hollywood stars Susan Sarandon, Naomi Watts and Elle Fanning in "About Ray", while Eddie Redmayne is getting early Oscar buzz for playing gender-conflicted Danish painter Einar Wegener in "The Danish Girl".

Page, who came out as gay in 2014 after reading the "Freeheld" script, has since worked on a documentary series about gay experiences worldwide and was also at the festival to promote "Into The Forest", which she featured in and produced.   Continued...

Actress Ellen Page arrives with her girlfriend, Samantha Thomas, on the red carpet for the film "Freeheld".  REUTERS/Mark Blinch