A man for all the oppressed

Submitted by AWL on 12 February, 2009 - 8:06 Author: Sadiq Muhammad

Review of "Milk"

This is a biographical film based on the life of Harvey Milk, a 70s gay activist and the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California, as a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors.

The opening credits of the film show archive footage of police raiding gay bars in the 50s and 60s. Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn) is seen recording his will in the opening scene. He fears assassination in the run-up to a crucial point in the recognition of gay rights in America.

The emotive theme of danger and persecution runs throughout the film, showing flashbacks to significant periods in Milk’s political and private life. It sets the context in which Milk’s political activity should be considered; this was a period when homosexuality was outlawed by legislation and gay people were routinely subjected to police brutality and imprisonment for being honest about who they were.

Milk’s political life started when he was in his early 40s and he moved to San Francisco with his lover. Like many other gay men at the time, he was hoping to find more acceptance. San Francisco was already home to a significant gay minority made up of men who had been expelled from the military.

Having set up a business (Castro Cameras) in The Castro — at the time a predominantly working-class Irish-Catholic area — Milk and his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) quickly become frustrated with the bigotry they encounter. The film shows how Milk worked to build networks of solidarity, at first with gay businesses and their customers but then also with trade unionists and the black community who were facing their own struggles at the time.

One element that comes across strikingly in the film is in the way that Harvey Milk strove to tackle bigotry, racism and corruption head-on from whichever angle it came. He is shown as championing the rights of all the oppressed and having gained much support for his bold campaigns. The film shows the lead up to his election and the following successful campaign to defeat the repeal of a national gay rights ordinance.

Harvey Milk was assassinated by an embittered fellow supervisor on 27 November 1978, at the age of 48.

This is an inspiring film about an inspiring individual. I’d give it five stars.

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