The night I got the stomach flu, I was out with a friend to see a preview of Milk, starring Sean Penn. The movie is so amazing and I need to issue a Spoiler Alert for the simple reason, I doubt this movie will even get the play time it so deserves in middle America.
The Gus Van Sant helmed film about the life of seventies gay activist Harvey Milk is an incredible and surprisingly timely story. The casting is uncanny: all three major characters (Milk, Councilman Dan White and Mayor Moscone) are played by dead ringer actors (Penn, Josh Brolin and my favorite song and dance man, Victor Garber respectively).
The movie opens as Harvey Milk, living in the closet in New York picks up a younger man, played by James Franco. The two end up moving to San Fransisco and starting a business Castro Camera.
At first, conservative Southern Belle that I am, I was a bit concerned about the sex scenes... this was San Fransisco in the seventies: pre-AIDS, let's sleep with everybody, freewheeling seventies. And Van Sant is not known for his discretion. But they were really pretty mild. There is one tender moment early in the movie with Fraco's Scott Smith character sitting on a ledge in front of the camera store. Sean Penn as Milk was squatting on the ground and the two were making out. It felt so tender and personal that I felt as like I was some voyeur watching a very private moment.
While the Castro was quickly becoming a mostly gay community, homosexuals were still regularly beaten and even barred from some businesses. Milk quickly organized the gay community. They would boycott businesses that refused to do business with them. Even business owners who initially shunned homosexuals could not deny the power of their dollars.
Milk started running for public office by approaching groups who lacked representation: gays, hippies in the Height and the elderly. Still he lost several times. All the while, he has clearly become a leader in Castro and gay community thanks to a fight against Prop 6 and Anita Bryant. Prop 6 made firing of gay teachers mandatory. Even if you weren't gay but supported them, you could be fired.
How timely that the gay community is fighting a similar battle with Prop 8 here in California and in other states that refuse to give them the right to marry...even though a marriage provides different rights than a civil union would.
After one such loss, Milk gathers his inner circle and asks them if they are out. Most nod in agreement.
Then he asks again: Are you out to your parents, your siblings, your friends, co-workers, neighbors, your boss? Are you out to everyone you know? The room grows quiet. He hands a phone to one man and says, "If they know one of us, they vote with us.
I can't go into the ending and Milk's murder...I got ill and missed the last twenty minutes and will the see the movie again for that. But what I saw was beautiful and amazing.
Mr. Milk, I know many of you. I care about my friends and I love them deeply. I'm proud to stand beside you and vote for equal rights for ALL!