Gus Van Sant's Milk Has Just Become So Much More Relevant

November 5, 2008
Source: LA Times

Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone

It wasn't a victory for everyone yesterday. I really hate mixing politics and journalism, but I can't help it today, because I feel like I need to promote Gus Van Sant's Milk even more based on the results of the election in California. For those who aren't from that state, there was a proposition on the ballot addressing gay marriage rights. If it passed, it would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, negating a decision by the California Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage. So why is this important? It mirrors another big proposition that Harvey Milk fought against 30 years ago that eventually lead to his assassination and was documented in the film. And with results showing that it did pass, it makes that film so much more important and relevant to the real world today.

It helps that I saw Milk a few weeks ago and embargoes be damned, that movie was phenomenal. As more time has passed and the results of this election have arrived, I've come to appreciate the film so much more. It's not only an exquisite recreation of the story of an inspirational man, but its political resonance and relevance are as powerful as the story itself. I wish Focus Features had this movie out in theaters now, because it's a film all Americans needs to see, especially after what happened with Proposition 8 here in California. Sure, it's not going to convince that many people to change their minds nor will it drastically change the way this country thinks, but when a film is able to capture so vividly the beliefs in which Harvey was fighting so strongly for, it deserves to be recognized and admired.

I'm very interested in seeing what Focus Features will do to promote this in the next few weeks leading up to its opening on November 26th and whether or not it gains additional controversial buzz. I've got a feeling that the results of the election are going to either really hurt or really help the film, and if anything, I want them to help it. Unfortunately it's too late to use the film as a means of convincing voters, which I think Focus Features wanted to actually stay away from. I imagine that to them to them, it's just a film, a dramatic retelling of an emotional story in our nation's history - or at least that's the stance they took to stay out of the crossfire. In the end, I think that idea is entirely irrelevant, because as I said, Milk has just become one of the most important films to hit theaters now that we know the results of this election.

There are two other references regarding Milk that are worth mentioning: Oscar buzz coming from Anne Thompson at Variety and Devin's editorial on the politics over at CHUD. First of all, what makes Milk such a strong contender for Oscars (and potentially a box office hit) is its relevance to today, especially in comparison to Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon and Oliver Stone's W., two other very political films. Her best quote, though, came after she mentioned how Milk is the perfect contender for Best Picture: "It reminds us of how far we've come, in a short time, and how far we still have to go." And that takes us right into Devin's article, which also addresses the fact that "we've come almost no distance from where we were when Harvey Milk was alive." That couldn't be more accurate considering the outcome on Proposition 8.

I really hope Milk ends up getting the attention it, and Sean Penn specifically, deserves and goes on to be seen by many Americans. Whether or not you voted for or against Proposition 8 (or not at all if you weren't in California), I hope you'll come to recognize Milk for what it is: an incredible film made up of amazing performances, a powerful and moving story, and a message of hope. For those reasons, Gus Van Sant's Milk is a film that I hope Americans come to embrace. Just as Barack Obama has become the first black president in our nation's history, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to major public office. Seeing his amazing story told in Milk and seeing him beat a similar proposition just gives me hope that one day our nation will be able to do the same, even though it didn't happen yesterday.

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Being gay is not like being a different race... it is a sexual preference... for dudes...

The Real Alex on Nov 5, 2008


I'd watch Sean Penn play a tree. I can't wait for this film, I'm a huge fan of Van Sant's work too (both mainstream and art-house).

BahHumbug on Nov 5, 2008


As California goes, so goes the nation... Or so I hope

HA on Nov 5, 2008


Lolz at the Sean Penn tree that would be one good tree film

mikesta on Nov 5, 2008


Ok, first of all remember how Penn went Full Retart in I am Sam? He went full Gay in Milk so he wont win an oscar like Tom Hanks did. See Tom didn't go full gay. I hate how people are saying Obama is the first Black President. Does it matter? If you want to be accurate he is the first Half WHITE Half BLACK President. He is not ever an African-American. I hate that term because most Black people in the country have never even been to Africa. Obama is an American and nothing more. HE IS NOT BLACK. he may look it, but this guy is more White than he is Black. He is also not gay and prop 8 passed because thats what the people voted for. just like they wanted Obama. Live with it.

Blah Me on Nov 5, 2008


One drop rule says he's black. 😕 Anyway, regardless of all the recent politics I'm sure I'll be extremely moved by this movie.

tzarinna on Nov 5, 2008


I'm really hyped to see this movie. It is definitely one of the biggest Best Picture contenders. And according to Proposition 8 in California: It's a shame that such things still happen nowadays. Those who voted in favor of this should be ashamed of themselves.

Marc on Nov 5, 2008


Had the mayor of San Francisco kept his big trap shut and had there not been judicial activism, the proposition may not have passed...

Rob on Nov 5, 2008


came here to say #5 shut up. thats all

Allen Sharpe on Nov 5, 2008


This movie looks great and should be a slap in the face to those who voted yes on 8. However, California wasn't the only state where bigotry reared it's ugly head - Florida, Arizona & Arkansas voters passed anti-gay ballot measures as well. I'm just happy I live along the Central Coast where the majority of voters (the Bay Area included) voted No on this measure - app. 75% No. Perhaps with the help of our new President (probably the first to mention gays and lesbians in his acceptance speech) those folks who have been blinded by their own intolerance will understand that persecution based on homophobia is no different than that based on race, sex, age, religion or national origin.

Mathew on Nov 5, 2008


came here to say, right on, #5. hey, #9, freedom of speech hurts don't it? don't worry president elect will fix that.

Adam on Nov 5, 2008


Politics and journalism?

Shane on Nov 5, 2008


Sorry, folks. The motion in California has PASSED. And as California goes...

Mo-Lar on Nov 5, 2008


I can't wait for the film either. I saw on line that Gus just gave 2500. in opposition to Prop 8. Anyone else heard this?

will on Nov 5, 2008


it's not a preference moron. the only preference is whether to openly gay or in the closet.

pippin on Nov 5, 2008


...that's in response to comment 1!

pippin on Nov 5, 2008


@ 15/16 ... You sure about that? (If you know what I mean)

Inquiry on Nov 5, 2008


Utterly uninterested in anything Penn does. He's proven himself time and time again to be an uneducated idiot (or in Soviet speak, "a useful idiot"). Yes, two great things happened last night: Al Franken was tossed, hopefully into obscurity, and Californians did the right thing. Unfortunately, the rest of the country didn't let the right one in.

RandyG on Nov 5, 2008


#10, I hate to burst your bubble, but Obama is decidedly anti-gay marriage. Says it's for religious reasons. Really the gay community did not have a friend in either presidential candidate.

Tim on Nov 5, 2008


I think Milk will be completely relevent exactly because it'll show how much farther we have to go as a country. I'm sorry, but what happened to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What happened to equal protection under the law? Separate is never equal, and to say that gays should shut up and be happy with the civil unions that the law has to graciously granted them, is a slap in the face to everyone who believes in democracy and equality. What makes gays so different that it would destroy the traditional marriage? What, give gays the right and straights won't want to anymore? Give gays the right and the country would erupt in flames? What gives people the right to determine the status of other people's relationships, to validate them? Fifty years ago, people couldn't marry outside their race and everyone was fine with that until people stood up and said no more. I'm deeply disappointed that in a time when everyone was so happy and willing to embrace the idea of change, props drenched in such balant prejudice could pass.

Elle on Nov 5, 2008


Over 90% of gays don't marry when given the chance (This info comes from outside the US), so the legalization of gay marriage is nothing more than a government endorsement of a particular fetish. Once they have government approval, it will become next to impossible to oppose it legally. A vote against gay marriage is a vote FOR TOLERANCE.

Total Bigot (I Hope Not??) on Nov 5, 2008


"A vote against gay marriage is a vote FOR TOLERANCE" Care to explain that one?

Elle on Nov 5, 2008


Vote for gay marriage. No-one has the right to ban or control a persons sexual orientatation, something which they were born with. Prop 8 is a step backward for America as a nation.

Me on Nov 5, 2008


#23- Prop 8 just defined marriage as between a man and a woman. No one was trying to control or ban anyone's sexual orientation.

Shane on Nov 6, 2008


I say lets redefine "marriage". Give it back to the church and tell them they can have it. Change the current definition of marriage to Civil Unions. Then the Christian church can be the only one to bestow the title of "marriage" on any union, but we all have the same right and protections under the law. People who don't believe in god, get married all the time. I'm not sure why this isn't offensive to people who say marriage is a union blessed by god. Being gay is not a choice, nor a fetish. Whoever said that gay and lesbian couples don't marry when given the opportunity, is way off base. Note the huge number of long time couples who married when gay marriage was legalized here in California. Gay or Straight, there are those of us who want to be in committed relationships and those who don't.

Lindsay on Nov 6, 2008


what happens when this passes and 10 years down the line someone wants to marry a dog or a cat? Wheres does it stop? When does it end?

Adam on Nov 6, 2008


Well Adam, seeing as dogs and cats aren't people, there isn't a risk of that. It's equal rights to all people under the law. Even crazy people like you deserve rights.

Lindsay on Nov 6, 2008


#20, #25 and #27... you summed it up perfectly. It's shocking this is still an issue in the 21st century. We obviously still have a long way to go.

Dan Blanchett on Nov 6, 2008


# 24 - It is controlling, it is making people feel like that have no rights, no say, making people feel like they are second class citizens. I can't believe this is still an issue these days. #26 - Adam what a silly, uneducated opinion you have. Lindsay is right - you are crazy.

Me on Nov 6, 2008


It's so sad to see that apparently the majority of American citizens haven't learned anything during the last decades filled with hate and discrimination. This is proposition is outrageous and just as bad as discrimination by race or gender. Remember: All men are created equal. Gay or not, I can't believe some of you are actually denying them the same rights and the same protection under the law. America voted for change and this change is in dire need. By the way, this was on the Imdb frontpage today: "Could an earlier 'Milk' release have killed Prop 8?" I don't think so, but it's certainly an interesting question. http://weblogs.variety.com/hal/2008/11/did-milk-miss-t.html

Marc on Nov 7, 2008


Well answer me this, if government doesn't have the ability to define marriage as between a man and a woman, how come they can limit the number of husbands/wives a person might have? As for #29, I was responding to #23 saying that someone was trying to control or ban someone's sexual orientation which had absolutely nothing to do with prop 8 (people should actually read on this stuff and not just recite talking points they hear on the news or internet). And what rights are they lacking? As far as I know, gay/lesbians partners still are eligible for benefits and everything that a husband and wife are eligible to receive. It's always funny to me to see people's perspective on rights. Why is the right for gay people to marry stronger than straight people's right to have marriage defined as between a man and a woman? I guess it just depends on which side of the fence you are on.

Shane on Nov 8, 2008


For everyone trying (and failing) to convince anyone that banning gay marriage is okay, did you know that California once banned interracial marriage as well? It became legal less than fifty years ago. As someone who has a Japanese dad and an Irish mom, I find that pretty incredible. I'm angry that Prop 8 passed because I stood on street corners with my friends and we all rallied against it. But I'm hopeful because it passed by such a narrow margin - we're closer than ever to having equality for all. Hopefully history will show all who supported Prop 8 as intolerant and delusional. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." CONSTITUTIONAL FAIL.

Michelle on Nov 8, 2008

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