The biopic film of gay-rights activist Harvey Milk premiered in San Francisco this week, and audiences agree the timing couldn’t be more perfect – or important.
Just six days out from deciding the fate of gay couples across California in the face of Proposition 8, it’s been over 30 years since Harvey Milk’s assassination but the release of Milk has seen activists drawing strong parallels between then and now.
Cleve Jones, gay rights activist and friend of Harvey Milk, attended the Tuesday film premiere in San Francisco. “Harvey would be angry,” Jones said of the current Proposition 8 debate, “and he’d still be fighting.”
Held on Castro Street, the fabled heart of the city’s gay culture and the area Milk once called himself ‘Mayor’ of, the premiere was a mix of street party, a reunion for friends, and a politically motivated show of strength. Attended by Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams and Oregon governor, Ted Kulongoski, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said he felt “a tremendous amount of pride” to be attending the film’s premiere. California will vote on Proposition 8 next Wednesday and the battle-lines have been drawn, with stars and citizens across the country throwing their weight, and often money, behind the cause.
Harvey Milk was assassinated within a year of being elected to office, and the film’s trailer is a chilling reminder of the homophobia he faced at a time when gay rights were far from given. Running for office twice unsuccessfully, Milk was elected to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, his third attempt. Killed in a double assassination with Mayor George Mascone in 1978, Milk has already been the subject of numerous plays, novels and an Academy Award winning documentary, The Times Of Harvey Milk.
The recent biopic was directed by Gus Van Sant, with Sean Penn as Milk, and James Franco as his lover. Both performances and production have seen activists and friends of Milk commend the film’s team on their depiction of the time.
Milk’s campaign manager in 1977 Anne Kronenberg, told media days after seeing the film that she “still [hadn’t] recovered from it.” Congratulating Van Sant on catching the era exactly, “what really comes across is that feeling of compatriots and being family that we felt,” says Kornenberg.
Across the street from the premiere, masses of fans and activists held signs saying ‘no’ to Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment to Californian law that threatens to annul the same-sex marriages that have taken place this year. The current battle, say those that have seen the film, has an eerie parallel with the campaign to ban and fire gay school teachers depicted in Milk.
“Being out and being able to be gay has never been any kind of moral issue for the people in my life and my world,” said 22-year-old actress Alison Pill who plays campaign manager Anne Kronenberg. “Working on the film reminded me of how much work there still is to be done. Look at Proposition 8.”
We can’t wait for January 29, 2009 when this inspirational film hits our screens. Check out the trailer here: