The movie, Milk (2008), was nominated for eight Academy Award nominations and ended up winning two: Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Original Screenplay (Dustin Lance Black).
Milk tells the story of the struggles Harvey Milk endured in the last eight years of his life as a gay rights activist and politician. The high point of the film shows Milk (Sean Penn) being elected to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, which made him the first openly gay person elected to public office in California. But sadly, the movie ends with Milk and Mayor George Moscone being assassinated by Dan White on November 27, 1978.
Rotten Tomatoes rated the movie at 94%. And even though R rated, most Christian reviewers stated the movie was well acted and well done.
The film’s release was tied to the 2008 California voter referendum on gay marriage, Proposition 8, as its premiere was held in San Francisco two weeks before election day, November 4, 2008.
Although always considered an icon by the San Francisco gay community, the movie catapulted Harvey Milk into martyrdom status. President Obama posthumously awarded Milk a Presidential Medal of Freedom (August, 2009). Desmond Tutu supported the founding of the Harvey Milk Foundation (2009).
But then, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 572 on October 11, 2009. This bill designated May 22 as Harvey Milk Day and encouraged California public schools, K-12, to commemorate the life and values of Milk.
Was Harvey Milk a martyr, someone to be admired by school children?
If you only watch the movie and listen to politicians and gay rights activists, the answer is “yes.” But if you do a little research, a different side of Harvey Milk can be seen.
The script for the movie, Milk, was adapted from Randy Shilt’s biography of Harvey Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street (St. Martins Press, 1982). Shilts wrote the book while struggling to find full-time employment as an openly gay reporter.
Later, Randy Shilt’s explained why he chose to write on Milk’s life:
At the time, for those of us who lived in San Francisco, it felt like it was life changing, that all the eyes of the world were upon us, but in fact most of the world outside of San Francisco had no idea. It was just a really brief, provincial, localized current events story that the mayor and a city council member in San Francisco were killed. It didn’t have much reverberation.” (Quartini, Joelle (June 20, 2008). “Harvey Milk Returns”, The New York Blade, 12 (25), p. 18.)
Here’s some quotes from Randy Shilt’s book, not portrayed in the movie, Milk:
“…sixteen-year-old McKinley was looking for some kind of father figure…At 33, Milk was launching a new life, though he could hardly have imagined the unlikely direction toward which his new lover would pull him.” (pages 30-31)
“It would be to boyish-looking men in their late teens and early 20’s that Milk would be attracted for the rest of his life.” (page 24)
“Harvey always had a penchant for young waifs with substance abuse problems.” (page 180)
“As homosexuals, we can’t depend on the heterosexual model…We grow up with the heterosexual model, but we don’t have to follow it. We should be developing our own life-style. There’s no reason why you can’t love more than one person at a time. You don’t have to love them all the same. You love some less, love some more — and always be honest with everybody about where you’re at. They in turn can do the same thing and it can open up a bigger sphere.” (pages 237-238)
Why in the world would politicians and educators hang their reputations on Harvey Milk?
(Continued in Part 8…if you are interested, the full series, which was written in 2012, may be seen here.)