Cole Haddon November 26, 2008
Milk, for those of you not yet in the know, is a biopic about Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man elected to major public office in the United States as well as an outspoken human rights advocate. Some call him “the gay Martin Luther King Jr.” The two men shared something else besides their passion for equality — they were both were assassinated in the prime of their influence.
I live in California at the moment, which most people assume to be the most liberal state in the union. After all, San Francisco, where Milk was elected to the Board of City Supervisors in 1977, is like homo-central, right? I bring this up because California, the allegedly most liberal state in the union, just passed an anti-gay marriage amendment to block a recent state Supreme Court decision allowing gays and lesbians to marry. Harvey Milk, whose campaign against an even more disgusting proposition in 1978 comprises the second half of his biopic, would be devastated.
Thirty years ago, Proposition 6 attempted to ban homosexuals from teaching in the state and would have forced employers to fire anyone who knowingly supported homosexuals in the school system. Seriously. The rhetoric used to support this prop was so ridiculous, Milk director Gus Van Sant had to use archival news footage, since recreating it would have sounded too comical. Similar rhetoric, like the idea that gay marriage would somehow make schools into gay recruitment stations, was used to support Proposition 8 this year here in California, the allegedly most liberal state in the union, where, apparently, we haven’t come that far in three decades.
Sorry, got off on a bit of an ideological rant there. (I’m sure some of you will be offended; feel free to post some hate that supports my argument.) You’re reading this to hear about the movie, but in a way, everything I just brought up pertains to the movie. Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black have created a wonderful historical accounting of a man (played by Sean Penn, delivering an Oscar-worthy performance) who gave everything he had, including his life, in the pursuit of basic human rights as we — or at least as our Founding Fathers — understood them to be. (San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was also killed in the double homicide) I spent half the movie sick to my stomach, literally nauseated by the recreation of an era and the hate-mongering that defined it, and the other half stuck somewhere between teary eyed and sobbing over how despicable a culture it is that can talk about bringing democracy and equal rights to repressed women in foreign lands while actively campaigning to limit and even strip equal rights from a significant percentage of our own population. This is the power of Milk, and more people need to be made aware that it’s at the local cineplex. Milk, as the movie makes clear, believed that the best way to confront bigotry against homosexuals was by direct interaction, by humanizing gays and lesbians, by putting familiar faces on them. Milk the movie is powerful enough to do just that.
If you’re interested in my critical assessment of it as a motion picture, because I didn’t dwell on who else starred in it or how Black framed the story — know it’s one of Van Sant’s best movies to date. At the moment, it’s my favorite movie of the year, in fact. Let’s see if The Curious Case of Benjamin Button can change that sentiment.
Categories: ReviewsTags: Milk, Sean penn