Earlier today I went to the movies with Linda to see the movie, Milk. Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by ex-Supervisor Dan White. During his trial, Dan’s lawyers argued that Dan suffered from an imbalance caused from eating junk food. (Later referred to as “the Twinkee defense”) Dan was only convicted of manslaughter, resulting in a 5 year prison sentence. Two years after his release, White committed suicide.
The movie was incredible. Now before you start saying things like, “you’re gay, of course you think the movie was incredible” let me tell you that this movie transcends gay and straight. Sean Penn’s performance as Harvey Milk was nothing less than stellar. He brought Harvey Milk to life like I believe no other actor could. Playing famous people can be difficult, running the risk of turning in a representation that can end up being more of a caricature of the person much like Faye Dunaway did with Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest. (I loved that movie. It’s so campy!) Penn, however, didn’t just portray Milk he became Milk much like Philip Seymour Hoffman became Truman Capote in Capote. Although Hoffman’s performace was “spot-on,” I found Capote boring.
To the contrary, Milk was engaging and engrossing. Mixed with actual footage, the movie begins with the end of Harvey and quickly jumps to when he first meets his long-time partner, Scott Smith, portrayed (in what should be a supporting Oscar nominated performance) by James Franco. It follows the two as they head on to San Francisco where they open a camera shop on Castro Street.
Motivated by Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign geared at attacking homosexuals, Milk was eventually elected as a San Francisco District Supervisor. Further fueled by the Briggs Initiative (Proposition 6), it is Milk who can be attributed to its defeat.
This isn’t fiction folks, this is history. Gays were beaten and arrested simply because they were in a gay bar. Proposition 6 not only would have required the immediate dismissal of all gay teachers but anyone who sympathized with them as well. It was a scary time and a time I remember oh so well. I lived in California in 1978 when Proposition 6 was going to the ballot.
I was living in Santa Ana with my future ex-wife Janine. We were both 18 and fresh from NJ. I was appalled and horrified over what was happening and decided to write a letter to the editor of the local paper expressing my dislike. Several days after the letter was mailed, a reporter came knocking on our door. We didn’t have a phone and he wanted to confirm my letter so he could print it in the paper. I was astonished that they wanted to publish my letter so much that they would come to my apartment to confirm it.
I was also in California when Milk was assassinated in November of ’78. One year later, I would be back in NJ, 19 years old, with a wife, a new born baby girl and living a lie. At the time, I had not fully understood what Harvey had done for me and millions like me. But I do now, especially with what recently happened in California and the ban on gay marriage.
Please, go see Milk. Go see it for the amazing performances. Go see it as a representation of history. Go see it because it’s probably going to be an Oscar nominated film. For whatever reason you choose, just go see it.
The mural below was painted on the wall of what was once Harvey’s camera shop on Castro street. The words shooting from the bullet is a Milk quote, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let the bullet destroy every closet door.” I’ll take it one step further: Go to the movie and let it open your door-the door to your mind and your heart.