Friday, December 19, 2008

Milk to Move You

I waited a week to write this, because I've been busy with this and that and that. I was worried that I wouldn't have a chance to write anything at all about the intensely powerful movie, Milk

You may or may not have heard about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the U.S. Either way, you'll learn all about Milk when you watch the movie, and about the movement he spearheaded in San Francisco in the early 70s. I guess the gist of the tale is that this insurance salesman moves to San Fran with his new lover and decides to contribute to the Castro neighborhood, an already burgeoning gay scene. There he finds his own voice and helps create a unified gay community that is strong and self-sufficient, one that protects itself from gay-bashers and straight-haters, if you will. 

He realizes, as do all great leaders, the power of the many over the vulnerability of the one. As an outed force, the gays of the Castro are able to overpower the homophobic and anti-union Coors beer company, through boycotting, to gain the support of and an alliance with the Teamsters. I don't think there is anything more beautiful than a bunch of gays and a slew of manly union guys working together for justice. That's maybe just me, but man, I love it when the good fight is won by us and not them. 

Harvey, with the support of his lover, brilliant friends and community, runs for office and loses again and again, finally winning a position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Eventually, he is assassinated, along with the mayor of the city, George Moscone, by a co-supervisor, Dan White, a man whom he believed was closeted, and who certainly had, at least, a screw loose.

However, Gus Van Sant really directed in a way that focuses the power of the gay movement as the heavy-hitting emotional component of the movie. The other emotional pull is Milk's openness and commitment to continuing to be honest about his homosexuality, his pure political brilliance and the love and appreciation of his supporters. Thus the film isn't crushingly Hollywood - focused on the murder of this brave man. Rather you see the sad act as a personal vendetta that was sort of the culmination of events that occurred between Milk and White, and not so much about Milk as a gay martyr. The murder wasn't the climax (as it would typically be in an American flick), merely a sad fact. 
This is what I liked best about the movie, that the focus was in the successes, and not in the failures, of men. 

I myself am a currently low-activity activist who has been on a bullhorn and marched with uni
ons and anarchists, so perhaps that is why I wept through the entire whole movie. I wept because I was so happy for the gay community, so moved by the heroism of this man, so hurt by the struggle and because of how far we've come in the last 30 years. It was a tragedy that Milk was murdered, but the work he did while he was on this earth, in only about 10 years, was comparable to (don't kill me black people) MLK, Jr. (though none of this would have been possible without the original civil rights movement). 
Milk made equality almost possible; he made equality a possibility. 

This movie has an unbelievable cast, the acting is dead-on (Hirsch and Franco: so sexy, and even Sean had his moments) and it will win Oscars (power of positive thinking). The message to take away from Milk has to be that it is up to us to have this country, this world, ourselves, actively pursuing equality and justice for all, all the time. 

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