Milk Movie Review and Commentary

Milk Movie Review and Commentary
Even knowing the ending, I was completely entranced by Milk.

Milk chronicles the life of Harvey Milk and the early stages of the gay rights movement in the United States.

For those of you who don’t know, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office. He only served from January 8 – November 27, 1978 but the impact of his service was felt not only in San Francisco, but across the country.

Things were very different for LGBT people in the 1970s. Policemen still routinely assaulted gay men and lesbians outside of gay bars. I will spare you more graphic details but those assaults were often excessively violent. LGBT people could be fired for being gay, could be evicted from their apartments or denied housing altogether, simply for being gay.

I wonder what Harvey Milk would think of us now.

Here it is 31 years after his death and Proposition 8 just passed in California. In many parts of the country, gay people can still be fired or denied housing because they are gay. Anita Bryant may have decided that she was too virulent in her anti-gay bigotry but there have been many more to take her place. From Fred Phelps to the “American Family Association”, being anti-gay is big business.

I wonder what Mr. Milk would think of LGBT people being so talked about in national political campaigns? I wonder what he would think of groups like the Westboro Baptists? How would he advise us to handle them? Milk’s advice would have been valuable because he was an inspired politician. He used humor and truth to win people over. From the teamsters to the firefighters, Milk was supported by powerful unions. He won that support by recognizing what those groups had in common with LGBT people and by addressing their concerns as well.

Milk wasn’t completely historically accurate, both leaving out quite a bit of the story and changes other things to, one would presume, enhance the story line. I don’t have space here to list all of the discrepancies, and really they don’t matter. The film captures the important parts of Milk’s life and recognizes what an important part of American history Harvey Milk is.

Sean Penn was amazing as Harvey Milk. I’ll confess that I had my doubts that Sean Penn could convincingly play a gay man. I was wrong. Penn did an astonishingly accurate portrayal of Milk. It’s reported that Penn watched video footage of Milk so that he could get the gestures and the facial expressions right. For me, the sign of a good actor is if I see the character, not the actor. I saw Harvey Milk. I hope that Penn receives an Oscar for this performance and Gus Van Sant deserves one as well for his direction.


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