Milk (M)

Directed by Gus Van Sant

On 24 November 2008, Australia passed laws acknowledging rights for those in same-sex relationships. Interestingly, it was almost thirty years to the day (27 November 1978) that the first person to fight for homosexual rights while in public office was assassinated. Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay person to be appointed to public office. It was a time when many of the states in America were repealing laws that acknowledged the rights of homosexuals. The push in California was aimed at sacking all gay teachers in public schools, and Proposition 6 aimed to take back rights already legislated for.

Milk (another Oscar-worthy performance from Sean Penn) owned a camera shop in Castro Street, San Francisco with his partner Scott Smith (James Franco). The early part of the film gives a tender portrayal of the beginnings of their relationship, in which Penn and Franco seem to spend most of the time making out. Milk’s ability to connect with people meant that the shop soon became a drop-in centre for gay men wanting to do something about their lack of human rights as well as young men reaching out for support. Milk inspired them all to become political activists, believing their battle was a quest for everyone’s rights. Many of Milk’s aging associates actually have bit parts in the film while actors portray their younger selves.

It is a powerful story and Rob Epstein has already won an Oscar in 1985 for his documentary ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’. Gus Van Sant does a brilliant job at recreating a time when the personal became political and people came together to demand change. It is amazing how the film manages a seamless integration of archival footage and recreated drama. This is a must-see film.

Lezly Herbert

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