A Big Glass of MILK for Thanksgiving?

November 19, 2008

My husband and I had the great luck to get tickets to the premiere of the film “MILK” at a packed Castro Theater last month. The film is directed by Gus Van Sant, stars Sean Penn (as Harvey Milk) and was produced by Focus Features (producers of “Brokeback Mountain”) so we went in thinking that it wasn’t going to be a waste of two hours… and we were right.

The film chronicles the story of Harvey Milk who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in America. Milk was murdered by Dan White in 1978.

The film focuses on the last eight years of Harvey’s life. It opens with with Milk picking up Scott Smith (James Franco), the man who would become his partner. It is the eve of Milk’s 40th birthday and he is living in New York. Shortly thereafter Milk and Smith relocate to San Francisco where Harvey begins his journey as a neighborhood activist and ultimately the first gay politician.

I felt like I went into the film knowing a lot about Harvey Milk. I had seen “The Times of Harvey Milk” and countless other documentaries about the gay movement that included his story, but I’ve never seen a movie with such an intimate and heartfelt look into his life.

I must admit that I was more than a little dubious when I heard that Sean Penn was going to play the role. Don’t get me wrong, I really love Sean Penn as an actor, but I really didn’t see him in this part. Well the reality is, Penn channels Milk. His passion and sensitivity in the role are amazing. Other great performances are put in by the studly young Emile Hirsch (playing Cleve Jones) and Josh Brolin (as Dan White).

I think the timing of this movie is significant on a couple of levels. One of the themes of the movie is Milk’s battle against Proposition 6, which threatened to remove all gay and lesbian school teachers and anyone who supported them from teaching in California schools. The similarity between this battle and what we’re going through with Prop 8 is striking.

In addition, I think it’s important to convey more of our history to the younger gay generations. I’m amazed when I talk to twenty-somethings (listen to me, I’m only thirty-something) that they often don’t know who Harvey Milk was. Because of the weight of the director, the stars and the production company, I’m hoping that this will manage to get before many eyes that don’t know much of Milk’s story. These are times of change and it’s wonderful to look to a revolutionary hero from our past for inspiration. In Milk’s own words, “You gotta give ‘em hope”. Watching it made me realize what a timely story it is, and it gave me more than a little hope for the future.

The film opens in theaters on November 26th.
All photos from Focus Features

Watch the preview-

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View all posts by Chris Turner


I can't wait to see this movie when it comes out next week. I saw them shooting here in the Castro. I watched one day as Sean Penn was kissing James Franco in front of Harvey's old camera shop. Fortunately they had to re-do the take a few times...

I was at the premiere myself and I was blown away by it. It not only focuses on Harvey's life, but the beginning of the gay movement and how far we have come. We as a community owe so much to this man who did give us the hope. Look at how much we have accomplished in the last 30 years, all because one man, one community had have enough. Gay or straight it is a powerful, must see film.

I was fortunate enough to get passes for an advanced screening here in Atlanta a few weeks ago. See this movie - it's really engrossing and well made. I felt like Van Sant and Penn captured the essence of Harvey Milk, but perhaps even more importantly, the filmmakers managed to convincingly portray a pivotal period in the history of the gay civil rights movement by mixing recreated moments with footage from the time.

I only lived in San Francisco for a year and a half, but there's no place like it. I got emotional seeing some of the locations used in the film.

WHY I MARCH (and why Harvey was my hero and why my female dog is named after Harvey Milk and Harvey Fierstein)!

Three months ago, after 52 years of being a native Californian, I moved out of state. I loved California, its scenery, incredible weather, variety of people, towns, and its quirkiness. Growing up I was proud of California because it seemed to be on the forefront in being open to new ideas, new innovations, to a diversity of people, and not limiting personal freedoms. In elementary school we ranked close to the top in education in the nation. We catapulted the economic boom of the U.S. after WWII with our aerospace/defense industries, Hollywood, agriculture, and some of the best universities in the world! We tended to rely on science and facts to guide our policy making and less on appealing to religious fears, although we welcomed diverse religious freedom and freedom from religion.
Encouraged by wonderful parents and an enlightened community I partook of many volunteer efforts beginning as a child. I volunteered planting seeds on the American River bikeway, helping raise funds for KVIE, took part in numerous walks/runs for alleviating poverty and diseases, volunteered for a suicide prevention hotline, was an active Boy Scout, and volunteered for civil rights and environmental causes.
While trying to be the "ideal" kid, and an outstanding citizen there was a dark secret I held within myself. I knew beginning around 5th grade that I was gay. I did my best to hide this, something that I did not choose anymore than someone chooses to be straight. Against this backdrop in those early years were some fundamentalist religious extremists who while they meant well in their own minds were literally killing me with their proselytizing, saying that people like me would burn in hell and were the lowest form of life. I felt shame to such a degree that I almost committed suicide by jumping off a building at UC Davis. Others who weren't quite as extreme kept saying, "If only homosexuals would settle down and not be so promiscuous, and be more like us, we would give them respect and equal rights. Well for a straight-laced teenager to only be hearing these messages was a bit overwhelming.
Years later in Davis, California, I would hear these same fundamentalists saying that if we protect these homosexuals from discrimination in jobs and housing they will be flocking to Davis and make it a gay Mecca. That of course never happened and no one held them accountable for their lies. Later I would hear these fundamentalists, say, "We support equal rights for homosexuals, but not "Special Privileges" for homosexuals", in their never ending political campaigns against gay equality over the years.
Jumping ahead to the present, we have loving gay couples who are not promiscuous, who contribute to society, who want to lead normal, loving, supportive family lives, who support equal rights, not special privileges for homosexuals or heterosexuals, yet again the religious extremists have displayed their hypocritical, disingenuous words.
Our Constitution is traditionally there to support equal rights, not take them away. A heavily Republican Supreme Court has ruled that granting marriage, a civil, not religious contract only to heterosexuals amounts to special privileges for heterosexuals in California.
I can't tell you how many times I have heard religious conservatives say, "I think everyone should be treated equally and have equal opportunities and that's one reason I'm opposed to affirmative action." Or another one is "My God is all about love, and it's up to him, not me to pass judgment upon others." And of course we all have heard the line, "Same sex marriage threatens the sanctity of marriage!" If these people were truly authentic in that belief their Proposition, would ban divorce, as NOTHING threatens the sanctity of marriage more than the big "D"!
So, frankly I am saddened that I was unable to vote no on intolerance and inequality and hypocrisy. The California I knew in its day at least strived to welcome progress, compassion, and equality. The California I knew had Governor Reagan speak out strongly against the religious extremists who tried to ban gays as teachers! And when California granted special privileges for heterosexuals it turned away millions of tourist dollars from both the gay and straight communities.
I have moved to Arkansas, one of the more conservative states in the Union, but I know that my neighbors in the gay accepting town I live in (Eureka Springs) will judge me based on what kind of person I am. They recognize that if they support equal opportunity and equal competition that the playing field MUST be equal, and that if they can love and get married, then I deserve the same. Sometimes I wonder if some of the pro 8 people are simply scared of competition and might discover that gays and lesbians may end up having a lower divorce rate than heterosexuals. While I may have physically deserted the California I love, I pray that those of you there will continue to educate to open hearts and minds and help preserve the positive attributes of the California of my childhood. That is why I march.

I am biting at the bit to see this film When I sent an e-mail to local theater, I was told this film was trash and the general manager was qualified to decide what people should and should not be allowed to see! Do I live in Russia??? Here is the e-mail string so you know I am not kidding:

Can SOMEONE please stop censoring the films available to us and bring MILK to
the theatre? Are you that conservative?

This film has an Oscar nominee (Sean Penn) and some of us would like to have the
option of seeing this film. It's been out a month now - what are you waiting

And the response I received:

It is our belief that presenting trash like this does not in anyway contribute to a constructive debate on modern politics. After spending many months in this business, I feel that I am most qualified to determine exactly what the general public should and should not be allowed to see.

This is not the same answer you will receive from other chains in the area, but is is the most honest.

However unqualified you feel we may be in making these decisions, you sir, are even less so qualified to do so.
Am I overreacting or is this guy as full-of-shit as I think he is?

Where do you live?

Many months in the business? Who is this guy?