You've Got to Give Them Hope
Although it ends in tragedy, Milk is at long last a film gays and lesbians can embrace and celebrate for its power in a way we could not films like Brokeback Mountain or Philadelphia. While those both pushed an envelope of sorts, Milk went straight for the wall and made sure the writing was legible.
Watching it, I couldn't help but think director Gus Van Sant's was making a comment on what happened in his country in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as president using Harvey Milk and the story of his death in 1978 as a vehicle.
Interestingly, and perhaps with painful irony, Milk's greatest personal victory (besides getting elected a city supervisor in San Francisco) was defeating Proposition 6, an effort by the Christian right-wing to rid California schools of homosexual teachers. Thirty years later, he would be sick in his grave to know the election of the country's first black president also meant, in his state, the passing of Proposition 8, a bill restricting marriage to heterosexual couples.
Were this disappointment not hard enough to swallow for gays and lesbians in the U.S. and elsewhere, the president-elect recently chose Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at his January 20th inauguration in Washington. Warren, a pastor from Republican red Orange County, California, has compared committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and an older guy marrying a child. (Arkansas, the leafy and beautiful Natural State went one step further by barring gays and lesbians from adopting).
From Dan Savage on down, many people were shocked, disappointed, even offended by Obama's choosing of Warren. This article, from New York Times editorialist Frank Rich, explores why. (Frank Rich, I should say, is my new favourite. If you liked that one, check out this one from today's paper. Best line: 'The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage.' He's writing about George W. Bush naturally.)
Milk, I would say, was a welcome antidote to Doubt, a film I saw the night before about the crusading Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) and her campaign to get rid of Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the early 1960s. The performances made the movie with Streep's hard-nosed, relentless nun instilling the fear of God like no other.