Wednesday, December 17, 2008
In the 1970's, a time when San Francisco cops routinely and viciously attacked men in gay bars, Harvey Milk united the gay community to make a stand for their rights. Amazingly, Harvey became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office where he led the fight to put a stop to a law to have openly gay teachers fired. A woman in a newsreel said, "How can you expect your own rights to be protected if you won't protect those of others?" In the light of the recent election, this message seems especially relevant - and sad. I understand that many Christian blacks coming out for Obama voted against partners' rights in same sex marriages. It just breaks my heart that one persecuted minority would deny the rights of another.
The movie, "MILK" begins with Harvey making a recording, "If you're listening to this, I've been assassinated." In the recording, he attempts to explain his life and motivations. The recordings also act as a structural device effortlessly interweaving the recorded narration with narrative scenes and news footage of the time.
The story opens with gay New Yorker Harvey Milk still in the closet and lamenting about turning 40 without having done anything with his life. He finds his cause when he moves to the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco and becomes the uniting force in the Gay Rights movement. He organizes a ban on neighborhood businesses that mistreat gays and is instrumental in making the Castro a Mecca for gay men. The cause eventually leads him to running for public office. Harvey explains that he is not running for office - the cause is. The important thing isn't winning, it's building an awareness of gay rights and encouraging gays to come out. And he succeeds at losing two elections before being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1977.
Harvey is portrayed (Oscar winner Sean Penn lives and breaths the role) as a passionate man both in his relationships and for his cause. He uses a disarming sense of humor to put skeptical straights at ease. He successfully plays the game of politics. The campaign does take a toll on his relationships. Yet Harvey persists in having relationships with needy men. He has a strong need to save those wounded by society and to never to be trapped alone in the closet again.
I brought my twelve-year-old son to show him that the important thing isn't just winning, it's fighting for something important. This movie certainly demonstrated that. Harvey Milk inspired Screenwriter Dustin Lance in his own life - so much that he fought to bring this honest portrayal to the screen.
Sean Penn won Best Actor and Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay for "Milk."