Documentary Review: Making the Boys

Just as Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band is essential gay drama for every gay person to experience, the documentary on the creation of this gay cultural phenomenon, Making the Boys by director Crayton Robey, is no exception.

More than just a documentary on the play and it’s eventual adaptation to film, Making the Boys outlines the history of the gay rights movement, the contributions the play made to the movement, and it’s vilification and eventual recognition as an important part of gay history.

The documentary starts out setting the tone with clips from the 1950’s public service announcement created by the Inglewood Police Department for the Inglewood Unified School District, called “Boys Beware“. This PSA warned people about “homosexuals” and outlined the “tactics” they use to prey on young boys.  We know from this point that Robey is going to reveal to us a kind of documentary that highlights the effects The Boys in the Band has made on the perceptions of gay culture.

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Mart Crowley in 1969. Photo by Dominick Dunne
Mart Crowley in 1969. Photo by Dominick Dunne

Mart Crawley joins us throughout the movie and starts by detailing his friendship with actress Natalie Wood in the 1960’s and how he became her personal assistant after moving from New York to LA. Through Natalie, Mart was able to foster connections with many people in Hollywood and became sort of gay playboy who rubbed shoulders and partied with many of the Hollywood elite. He details many of his early successes and misses as a writer in Hollywood and his eventual move back to New York where he wrote The Boys in the Band.

Robey assembles a great cast of commentators who have a wide range of opinions on the play and it’s effects. There were comments from those who understood the impact of the play like Dan Savage (Savage Love), Tony Kushner (writer of Angels in America), and Carson Cressley (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), or those that were completely oblivious and didn’t care, like Christian Siriano (Project Runway contestant) or gay icons who did not like what it had to say about gay culture like Edward Albee (writer of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?).

Stonewall Inn in 1969 by Diana Davies
Stonewall Inn in 1969 by Diana Davies

Many commentaries conclude that the movie adaptation received less than stellar and even sometimes hostile reviews compared to it’s widely acclaimed play counterpart because of the paradigm shift that happened with the Stonewall riots.  The play was released in 1968 and was considered groundbreaking.  Stereotyped or not, no one had ever seen gay people portrayed so boldly, not even gay people! A year later in 1969 were the Stonewall riots which changed everything. In The Boys in the Band, the characters dealt a lot with homophobia whether it was internalized or came from the “straight world”. The Stonewall riots pushed gays to fight back against homophobia and not to be complacent. By the time the movie adaptation was released in 1970, the gay liberation movement had moved past complacency and wanted more than what The Boys in the Band had to offer.

Though we may want to act like we’ve moved past these problems of internalized homophobia and complacency, these are real issues that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people are continuing to deal with everyday. In Making the Boys, Crayton Robey reminds us of the original power of The Boys in the Band and how it not only shows us that, as queers, we are not alone but also that real people fought for the great strides in equality that we take advantage of today.

Visit the Making the Boys website and check out the documentary on Netflix Instant. And if you haven’t seen The Boys in the Band, you can rent it on Netflix or buy it on Amazon.

Trailer for Making the Boys:

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