Milk didn’t win an Oscar for best picture at the 81st Annual Academy Awards. However, Sean Penn did win for Best Actor and Dustin Lance Black won for Best Original Screenplay.
Penn accepted his award saying, “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns!” He also referred to the anti-gay protestors who were picketing the Academy Awards saying “For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone!
Dustin Lance Black, in his acceptance speech, said to LGBT children that they are “beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours.”
With all there is to think about in the world of the queer today, you might be asking why we even care about the Oscars. As Emma Ruby-Sachs of 365Gay.com says, the Oscars are good for exposure. For the moment, LGBT issues aren’t front and center. Now that Prop 8 has passed in California, the elections are over for now and no one gay has done anything to land themselves on the news, so it’s a quiet time for LGBT people.
While I’d like to think that seeing LGBT people on television has had a normalizing effect for the average American adult, why I am really excited about these wins and the acceptance speeches are because of the young people watching at home.
Many of us had little exposure to gay people before we came out. What we did have wasn’t necessarily positive. Those acceptance speeches could well be cause for hope for young people who live in a world where “gay” and “queer” are frequently used in a derogatory manner. Not only was there a straight man advocating on our behalf, but a successful gay man winning his own award. I can’t tell you how much that would have meant to me as a young not-yet-out lesbian.
For others, those speeches may have sparked conversation. Very likely those conversations were among like-minded people but those acceptance speeches were also an opportunity for people who differ to have a discussion that isn’t terribly threatening. Sadly, LGBT concerns are still controversial.
Milk also shows Hollywood powers that be that queer films can be commercially successful, critically acclaimed and award winning. Making films is a business and they have to make money, so innovation is sometimes discouraged. Now we have a movie about a gay man who wasn’t widely known outside of San Francisco or the gay community and it’s successful. Perhaps for the next filmmaker making a pitch to a studio executive, it will be a little easier. That’s good for us all.