Milk the Movie


Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant (Finding Forrester; Good Will Hunting) is the story of Harvey Milk (1930-1978). Sean Penn is outstanding in his role as the first openly gay man elected to public office in San Francisco.

Milk and Mayor George Mascone (played here by Victor Garber) were assassinated on November 27, 1978, by Dan White (Josh Brolin), a disgruntled city official, who was a Catholic, and served with Milk on the city’s Board of Supervisors.

Milk was not an activist at first. When gays experienced discrimination in housing and jobs, he decided to run for office. His style was theatrical, engaging, and always kind. He lost many times until he was elected on the pooper-scooper platform: that people would be fined if they didn’t clean up after their dogs. He was now in a political position to do make a difference in other areas, including making sure that gay people did not lose their jobs or housing because of their sexual orientation.

The acting in the film is consistently good. The story is heartbreaking because there is no excuse for violence and murder ever. Dan White’s story is just as tragic. The film captures the upheaval of the counterculture revolution of the 70’s very well and is obviously sympathetic. At the end of the day, however, everyone deserves to work, to have a place to live, and to live in peace; this is indisputable. There are some graphic scenes in the film.

It was coincidental that Milk was released a couple of weeks after the November, 2008 elections and the passage of Proposition 8 in California that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, thus outlawing gay marriage – but not same-sex unions. (The film obviously has been in production for a year or more, even before Prop. 8 was on the ballot.)

Archbishop George Niederauer addressed the controversy over Prop. 8 and clarifies the teaching of the Church, both doctrinal and pastoral, regarding marriage and the People of God. Here is an excerpt (for the entire statement, see

“What is the way forward for all of us together? Even though we supporters of Proposition 8 did not intend to hurt or offend our opponents, still many of them, especially in the gay community, feel hurt and offended. What is to be done?

“Tolerance, respect, and trust are always two-way streets, and tolerance respect and trust often do not include agreement, or even approval. We need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to stop talking as if we are experts on the real motives of people with whom we have never even spoken. We need to stop hurling names like “bigot” and “pervert” at each other. And we need to stop it now.

“For our part, we churchgoers need to speak and act out of the truth that all people are God’s children and are unconditionally loved by God. While we argue among ourselves, the people who need our help with hunger, unemployment, homelessness and other problems wait for us to turn together toward them. More particularly, we Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco need to minister to the needs of all Catholics in this local Church. Whoever they are, and whatever their circumstances, their spiritual and pastoral rights should be respected, together with their membership in the Church. In that spirit, with God’s grace and much prayer, perhaps we can all move forward together.”

Milk,I think, is a film that can launch a thousand, a million, conversations. And it is through dialogue that we can find a way to go forward together in peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.

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