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Pomona Professor Wins Grant for His Documentary "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria"

Victor Silverman, an associate professor of history at Pomona College, was awarded a 2003 Horizons/Frameline Film and Video Completion Fund grant to complete post-production work on his documentary, "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria." The documentary recounts the riot at an all-night coffee shop in 1966 that sparked a militant transgender movement in San Francisco. The $6,000 grant for “Screaming Queens” was the top prize of the four grants awarded to the competition’s winners.

The documentary, which is co-directed by Susan Stryker, 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. The riot marked the beginning of a broader movement to support freedom of gender expression.

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.

Silverman and Stryker, who are still raising funds to complete post-production, plan to complete the hour-long documentary this summer and enter the film in festival circuit in fall 2004. “Screaming Queens” is intended for festival, theatrical, and public television distribution. The film has already been shown as a work-in-progress at festivals in Amsterdam, London, Toronto, San Francisco, and New York.

Silverman, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, teaches courses on the U.S. since the Civil War; U.S. labor and working class history; the history of the U.S. Right; 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. He has been a member of the Pomona College faculty since 1993.

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).

The Horizons/Frameline Completion Fund was established over ten years ago to assist lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media artists with the final stages of production. To date, more than 50 films and videos have been completed with assistance from the fund, including Rodney Evans' “Brother to Brother” (in competition at Sundance 2004), Harry Dodge & Silas Howard's “By Hook Or By Crook,” Cheryl Dunye's “Watermelon Woman,” Barbara Hammer's “Nitrate Kisses,” Rose Troche's “Go Fish,” David Weissman and Bill Weber's “The Cockettes,” Yvonne Welbon's “Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100” and “The Brandon Teena Story” by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir.


Victor Silverman
Associate Professor of History
Pomona College
Office Phone: (909) 607-3395