Sunday, February 1, 2009

Harvey Milk: fighting for their lives

Milk has been deservedly nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor. This conventional but gripping narrative covers the years of Harvey Milk's ground-breaking political coming out. Sean Penn gives a masterly performance as the first openly gay elected official in the U.S. as we follow Milk from his arrival in San Fransisco in 1972 till his assassination in 1978. He is supported by a very strong cast.

Milk became, in the character's words, "a gay with power". His murder was the price he paid for exercising that power. He won many battles not just his election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was instrumental in defeating John Briggs' Proposition 6 referendum in 1978. Inspired by morals campaigner Anita Bryant and the religious right, it sought to ban gay and lesbian employment in state schools. Harvey gained the support of a diverse group including Ronald Reagan, then ex-governor of California, past President Gerald Ford and serving President Jimmy Carter. This was no mean feat given the recent passing by 52% of Proposition 8 banning same sex marriage in California.

Gus Van Sant has directed a fast moving story with an authentic atmosphere. The 70s are alive again for just a couple of hours. We could do with a lot more Harvey's. His catchcry, "you have to give them hope", could have been from the Obama campaign. Part biopic, part polemic: don't miss it.

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