The filmmakers behind Milk couldn't have asked for better timing for their release. A tightly composed tale of Harvey Milk's contribution to the gay movement (he was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the U.S.), Milk portrays the early and explosive days of grassroots activism for homosexual rights on the streets of San Francisco. Thirty years later, the movement is taking to the streets again in California, protesting the recently passed Proposition 8, which amends the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman.
The film is more of an homage and biopic than a political call to arms, but certainly it will be embraced as a galvanizing piece of agit-prop by the already incensed gay community. Its openly gay filmmakers, including director Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, undoubtedly mean it to be more than just popcorn escapism.
The film follows Milk (Sean Penn) from his early '70s arrival in San Francisco, where he set up shop (literally: a camera shop) in the city's Castro District, which quickly became a haven to which homosexuals migrated. Gays owned the shops, rented the apartments, and lived peacefully. But the police hated them, and occasionally got abusive. Milk quickly became the organizing voice ("the mayor of Castro Street") who could funnel his community's anger into activism. Following the 1977 repeal of gay rights legislation in Florida (which singer Anita Bryant famously campaigned for), there were riots in the Castro district. Milk got up with a megaphone and put a positive spin on it, speaking with Obama-esque language of hope. "We've gotta give hope to gay teenagers across America!"
The film efficiently documents Milk's ...1
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