Catching up with ‘Milk’ in the Bible belt

Posted by · 6:40 am · December 20th, 2008

Sean Penn in MilkIn 1977 Harvey Milk was elected to position as city supervisor in San Francisco. Milk, an openly gay man, was the first of his kind. Rather than concealing his sexual orientation, he wore it proudly, and used his influence in a largely gay section of San Francisco to do good. He became an effective advocate for gay rights across the United States until his assassination, in 1978, by Dan White. Mr. Milk and Mr. White are the subjects of the terrific new film, “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant.

The substantially gifted actor Sean Penn plays the lead role, and he is supported by Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and James Franco. The film has generated a fair amount of awards buzz, and it should. It’s one of the best of the year.

In November, interestingly, the citizens of the state of California went to the polls to vote on Proposition 8, a measure that would abolish the recognition of same-sex marriage in the Golden State. In my home state of Arkansas, voters were asked to determine whether same-sex couples could adopt children or serve as foster parents. In both instances, supporters of gay rights lost.

If you have seen “Milk” or the exceptional documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” by Rob Epstein, you know that Milk worked tirelessly to defeat Proposition 6 in 1978, just before his death. Prop. 6 was an effort to prohibit gay people from serving as public school teachers. As I watched “Milk,” after the November elections, I couldn’t help but see the parallels. Both struck at the very foundation of individual liberty.

Writing for The Huffington Post last month, Mr. Epstein observed, “Although Proposition 8 wasn’t exactly a re-make of Proposition 6, it’s the same disaster movie storyline pitch: any recognition of constitutional rights for gay and lesbian citizens will somehow destroy the natural order and as a result America’s institutions — be they schools or marriage — will crumble.”

“Milk” is on course for a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards early next year. It was selected as the best film by the New York Film Critics Circle and yesterday received a best ensemble nomination from the Screen Actors Guild. And no seems to be surprised by it. 2008 has been a bad one for people in same sex relationships, or who support gay rights. Still, it’s plausible that in the same state that recently approved Prop. 8 by generous margins, a film directed by an openly gay man, about a gay man, his gay friends and gay rights in California could win Best Picture. Wouldn’t that be something?




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10 responses so far

  • 1 12-20-2008 at 10:45 am

    Duke said...

    Some people may read my comments and take it the wrong way, but so be it. I saw Milk, and thought it was a very good film. Sean Penn was tremendous in a role he never really has played before. Seeing Penn so optimistic was a strange undertaking, especially compared to Penn’s darker roles. In my opinion, the awards Milk should be up for include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor (Brolin AND Franco should be nominated; but I’m sure only one will get the recognition).

    However, I do not really agree with the parallels being used with Prop. 6 and Prop. 8.

    Prop. 6 essentially said that individuals who were gay could not teach in the public school system, and if they had been found out, the school could fire said teacher. This law was unconstitutional. It is not up to the State who can and can’t be a teacher.

    Now, Prop. 8 on the other hand, I do not have a problem with. I, being a Christian, cannot support same-sex marriage. If the law would have been defeated, it would legitimize a union that is UNHOLY in God’s eyes. It says that right in the Bible. I know people may come after my religious argument, but this is why people voted against the proposal. I believe homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, so those who would argue “how can you support black rights, but not gay rights” will fall on deaf ears. People are born with a certain pigmentation, but until science proves that one can be born gay, I and many others will choose to believe it is a lifestyle choice.

    I think the common ground needed is for civil unions. The State should allow gay couples into civil unions, and receive every benefit a married couple would get. However, it would not be recognized as a marriage. Same rights, not the same label. The gay community is asking for too much of the public to believe that marriage constitutes a union between man/man and woman/woman.

    And the fact that some groups in Cali want to usurp the voters and have the courts choose the outcome isn’t very democratic. I also think it is ironic that the largest segment voting for Obama (black community), overwhelmingly voted for Prop. 8.

  • 2 12-20-2008 at 11:55 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    I’m not even going to touch this one. I don’t have the energy.

  • 3 12-20-2008 at 12:21 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Truly the best, most important, most inspiring and empowering film of the year (so far). I have rarely felt such an overwhelming flood of emotions while watching a movie, and the satisfaction, as well as hope and assurance, it left me with by it’s transcendent closing scenes is the mark of a truly terrific picture.

  • 4 12-20-2008 at 12:21 pm

    Speaking English said...

    *** Its transcendent closing scenes.

    Sorry. I have no idea how I made that mistake

  • 5 12-20-2008 at 1:05 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    See, I think “Milk” is very well-made. I think Sean Penn gives an absolutely astounding performance. I think that it’s also a very important and timely movie, and I’m very happy it was made. It also has a melancholic poignancy in light of the recent passing of Prop 8.

    However, I just can’t love it. I admit that I’m not a big fan of biopics in general, and “Milk”‘s screenplay is your typical series of greatest-hits, and nothing more. The movie left me cold. As I rejoiced in my theatre seat at the message being conveyed, I also was unable to connect emotionally with it.

    Am I alone?

  • 6 12-20-2008 at 3:41 pm

    Patrick said...

    Duke: Get thee to a nunnery.

  • 7 12-20-2008 at 3:43 pm

    Garrett said...

    Duke: It’s a shame that your religion has left you with such inflated ignorance. Of course, you forget about this thing called “the separation of church and state” which nullifies your religious arguments against gay marriage. A vote like this should never have been brought to the people for a vote. If people dictated the law, blacks and women couldn’t vote and neither would have rights. Also, if we went by the bible’s definition of marriage, women would be a tool for sale and blacks could never marry whites. The definition of marriage has been changed many times before and the word “marriage” is not a religious one. I guess some people will do anything to pick and choose from the bible as long as they get their way. Of course, something like this will soon be repelled, I believe, just like when blacks were banned from marrying whites. Gay marriage is inevitable. The fact that, because of your religion, you think people choose to be gay is simply ridiculous. If gay people chose to be gay, then their death rate wouldn’t be what it is, and gay teenagers wouldn’t allow themselves to stay gay after being signaled out by the majority and trampled over. Honestly, the ignorance of some… The parallels that you choose not to see are the deductions of the minority and the disgusting way people choose to vote on the minority’s rights. Thomas Jefferson said it best.

    I’ll agree with you on one thing, though. Milk is one of the best pictures of 2008

  • 8 12-21-2008 at 1:40 am

    Dianna Trent said...

    People tend to forget what’s been written B4 any constitution or anything to do with America. They also tend to forget what happened to people & places that BROKE that Law…

  • 9 12-21-2008 at 6:49 am

    Simone said...

    I can’t wait to see Milk, and I have a feeling that between this film and believe it or not, Wall-E or TDK, one of these three will be The Best Picture of the year. As a het female who is a proud supporter of gay rights, I feel that if Milk were to win the big prize, it will make up for that fuckery fiasco of the 2005 Oscar, and send a signal to the fools who think that same sex marriage is wrong.

    The Oscar race is and has alwasy been a Political race, and what better time than now to get up on that pedestal and send a real message? If not now dammit, when?

    ??