MILKDirector: Gus Van Sant
Writer (WGA):Dustin Lance Black
Genre: Biography - Drama
Plot: The story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was murdered along with Mayor George Moscone by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.
Awards: Won 2 Oscars.
I'll start off by saying that I enjoyed this Oscar winning film enough to have seen it twice, once by myself and a second time with my girl friend.
Of course I am old enough to remember the events portrayed in this film in actuality. The film tells the story of the rise of gay political activist Harvey Milk and the beginnings of gay liberation in San Francisco. Gay liberation actually began in New York City in 1969 when patrons of the NYC gay bar The Stonewall, located in Sheridan Square, fought with raiding police rather than meekly acquiescing to police harassment as gays had historically done before. It was a signal that homosexuals in New York, and later throughout the United States, were no longer going to act as "helpless faggots".
In truth, the hippie movement of the late 1960s had allowed several types of liberation movements of previously disenfranchised minorities to arise. The Feminist Movement began in 1969 and brought Gay Liberation in its wake.
The movie follows the career of Harvey Milk, a New York Jew, who moved to San Francisco where young men and women were "wearing flowers in their [long] hair" as an outward symbol of freedom.
But if Milk anticipated finding a liberal attitude towards homosexuals in the City By The Bay, he was sorely disappointed. Other gay men and women began to be attracted to San Francisco about the same time, also hoping to live a life free of persecution. Sadly. the people and police force of the city were still living in a pre-hippie mindset and the gay folks who took up residence in the Castro section, adjacent to the Haight Ashbury section of the city where the hippies lived, found that they were just as feared and despised as they had been elsewhere in America.
Harvey manages to galvanize the gay community into political action to demand equality with the heterosexual citizens of the city. He runs for political office, first as assemblyman and later as district supervisor, and after several failed attempts to win the local elections, he at last does achieve office as America's first openly gay politician.
One of the first issues that he feels compelled to deal with is confrontation with the mean-spirited and hateful American Christian Religious Right as represented by Anita Bryant's political coalition, "Save Our Children", which used the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality as a club to beat down the civil rights of homosexuals first in Florida and then later elsewhere across the country.
Bryant led campaigns around the country to repeal local anti-discrimination ordinances including St. Paul, Minnesota, Wichita, Kansas, and Eugene, Oregon.
Milk saw her as the arch enemy of gay equality and challenged her and her organization to bring their discriminatory issues to California.
Bryant accepted the challenge and endorsed the so-called Briggs Initiative Sponsored by John Briggs, a conservative state legislator from Orange County, California.
This legislation, if passed, would have, among other things, caused the firing of gay public school teachers and also of anyone sympathetic to homosexuals or homosexuality.
Harvey Milk organized the fight against this outrageous attempt to criminalize liberal and fair-minded people as well as dehumanize gays. Briggs was voted down in almost every county in California except, ironically, San Francisco where the city's ongoing animosity to homosexuals played out politically.
In one particularly poignant scene, at an anti-Briggs rally, a Milk supporter gets up in front of the crowd. Speaking through a bullhorn, he passionately cries out, "Forty years ago, the gay citizens of Germany woke up one day to find that they no longer had any civil rights. Today, the gay citizens of California may wake up to find that they no longer have civil rights. This will happen if we allow Briggs to pass."
Harvey Milk continued to amass power and make gains for his Castro District constituency but along the way he also made enemies.
It was his fatal error, brought about by his growing arrogance, to make an enemy of Dan White, another district Supervisor, a favorite son of both the police department and fire department of San Francisco.
White initially tried to befriend Milk as a political ally whereby each promised to vote for the important issues of the other. But on at least two occasions Milk reneged on his promises and refused to back White's proposals, leading to White's political humiliation and his decision to resign from his Supervisor position. His friends on the police department urged him to reapply for his position which he did. Initially mayor Moscone agreed to reinstate White but later changed his mind when Milk subtly threatened Moscone with withdrawal of gay support in any future mayoralty runs.
With a family to feed and no income with which to support them, White slipped into a dangerously paranoid depression.
Feeling that his life was now irreparably ruined, he made his way to City Hall where he shot and killed both Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk.
Gay people like to say that Milk was assassinated but the truth is that although Milk received many assassination threats throughout his political career, none of these threats materialized. Milk was not assassinated. Rather he was the victim of a personal vendetta which he in part brought on himself by his arrogance.
This does not detract from the dynamic and charismatic man that he was nor from the important civil rights legislation that he brought, not only to the State of California but to the nation as a whole.
America has come far from the 1970s and 1980s of Harvey Milk - but not far enough. We are now in a new century and Milk's vision of equality for non heterosexuals is far from realized. Just last year, in his home state of California, marriage rights were given to California gays, only to be retracted a few months later by the homophobic voters of that state.
The film has an important message which simply stated is, When one minority's rights are threatened, the rights of all citizens are threatened. In Germany, in a so-called civilized culture, rights were taken away from Jews and gypsies and the mentally retarded and homosexuals.
In 21st century America, no one is yet throwing anyone into ovens but just as the citizens of Germany made it possible for people to be gassed and burned, we citizens of America continue to make it possible for people with unpopular sexual desires to be daily harassed, humiliated, beaten, and killed. The worst offenders appear to be the ones who most loudly proclaim, Love your neighbor as yourself, and, That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others.
Milk the movie has much to teach us. I urge you to go and see it.
Oregon, OH March 5, 2009
Cast (Cast overview, first billed only)
Sean Penn ... Harvey Milk
Emile Hirsch ... Cleve Jones
Josh Brolin ... Dan White
Diego Luna ... Jack Lira
James Franco ... Scott Smith
Alison Pill ... Anne Kronenberg
Victor Garber ... Mayor George Moscone
Denis O'Hare ... State Senator John Briggs
Joseph Cross ... Dick Pabich
Stephen Spinella ... Rick Stokes
Lucas Grabeel ... Danny Nicoletta
Brandon Boyce ... Jim Rivaldo
Howard Rosenman ... David Goodstein
Kelvin Yu ... Michael Wong
Jeff Koons ... Art Agnos
Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.
Runtime: 128 min
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