Once again, it’s like my giant excel spreadsheet randomize button I hit months ago was a mystic fortune teller. Here I am reviewing Milk days before Wear Purple Day, where I and thousands more will honor the memory of six young boys who took their own lives after persecution against their sexuality.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected into any political office. The film shows us the last eight years of his life, from a realization at forty that he had done nothing he was proud of, witnessing the homophobic San Francisco police brutalize his friends and neighbors, through his campaign struggles and his success at election. But ultimately, he became a symbol and driving force behind the gay rights movement.
Sean Penn does not portray Harvey as some daring, flaming hero, but rather a man who saw what needed to be done. He witnessed first hand the persecutions the gay community endured and simply realized that they needed one of their own looking out for them. It happened to be him and soon he was able to rally angry mobs together for one purpose, even when they were on the brink of a riot. Penn does not mold Harvey around stereotypes, but gives us a smart, kind, funny and quirky person we would all like to know. His romantic relationships are sprinkled in, but do not define him.
We are shown, sometimes though old bits of news footage, Harvey’s biggest opponents. There is Anita Bryant, a ignorant religious conservative usually interviewed with a church in the background and validates herself with phrases like “laws of God” and “normal majority.” She actually becomes a catalyst fueling anger and rallying the community further. Harvey’s closest enemy is Dan White (Josh Brolin) a fellow Supervisor who ends up assassinating Harvey and the mayor. Harvey keeps Dan close, trying to make an allay out of him and believes that Dan is a closeted homosexual himself.
One of the most moving scenes in the film is where a teenager from Minnesota calls Harvey. The call is very brief and commotion is all around Harvey, but the boy says that his parents are going to take him to a hospital to fix his homosexuality and he’s thinking about killing himself. Harvey tells him to get away, run before this gets to him. Only problem is that that boy is in a wheelchair. We’re sure the boy is a goner, until he calls again over a year later, thanking Harvey for saving him.
I’ll admit, ever since his remake of Psycho, I have not been able to be a fan of Gus Van Sant. But what he has done here with the story of Harvey Milk is wonderful and is needed in our society. Those who feel lost or bullied because of their sexuality need to see this film. They’re not the first to feel like this and need to know that people are and have been fighting for them. And we’re not going to stop.
Harvey Milk is just one of countless casualties over the gay rights movement, but how many more will we let die with him? How many more teenagers will we hear about committing suicide to escape a world where they are only bullied? Parents, students and all citizens of the world need to take notice, stop the persecution and have respect.
“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”
One of my favorite films. Sean Penn picks really complex and interesting roles.