59. Milk

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Movie: Milk

Release Date: November 26, 2008

Director: Gus Van Sant

Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco.

Tag Lines: “His life changed history. His courage changed lives.”

“Never blend in.”

Relevance: Before the year 2000, I was not very politically aware or active. My parents, both registered Democrats during my childhood, definitely stressed the importance of voting when I was a kid. I remember them walking down the street to the local middle school where they would cast their ballots, sometimes going with them and waiting outside. It was all very mysterious to me and I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but my mom and dad always taught me how important it was to vote. I registered as a Democrat, like my parents, when I was eighteen, but didn’t exercise that right for another ten years. I can’t explain why I didn’t vote or why I wasn’t motivated, I just wasn’t.

That all changed once I came out of the closet as a gay man in 1998. It wasn’t immediate, but once the fog lifted from my brain, I finally realized that politics was indeed important and if I wanted to live a free, open, healthy gay life, I needed to be involved. That all came to a head in 2000 when Al Gore and George W. Bush ran for President. I would say that was the beginning of my activism life. I became much more vocal and made sure everyone, friends and family, knew where I stood politically. That was also around the time I found out my father had switched affiliations and became a registered Republican. I forgot exactly how I found out, but my mom, who remained Democrat her entire life, said she didn’t tell me because she didn’t want me to be upset. It always baffled me how someone could just flip their whole belief system mid life. It never sat well with me. Thankfully though my father grew some brains back again in 2016, the start of the Trump era, becoming “undeclared.” We didn’t agree on many things, but we could at least agree that Trump was not a good human being.

In 2004, I heard Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention and immediately fell in love. I followed his career after that and was thrilled that he decided to run for President in 2008. I was team Obama the entire way and have absolutely zero regrets. He was a great man and eventually became a great two term President, the greatest one at least in my lifetime. I spent hours campaigning for him and donated a lot of money (relatively speaking as I have always been a lower to middle class man) to his campaign. 2008 was a busy, exhausting and emotional year for me, but it was all worth it.

2008 was also the year that Proposition 8 passed in California. Prop 8 basically denied same-sex partners from legally marrying each other in that state. It was a huge defeat for the Gay Rights movement, but a defeat that lit a fire under a lot of gay men and women. I thought my political activism would stop a bit after Barack Obama was elected, but it only just intensified. During this renewed fight for Gay Rights, a small, independent movie starring Sean Penn was released in theaters. ‘Milk,’ directed by Gus Van Sant, was released at the end of November in 2008. It was getting critical acclaim and it was a movie that jumped to the top of my “must see” list. In between phone calls and emails to Senators and Congressmen, I went to see the movie with my then partner and another couple. Little did I know that the movie would make me even more aggressive with my fight for equality.

I was vaguely aware of Harvey Milk and had not seen the 1982 documentary about his life, ‘The Mayor of Castro Street,’ which means I was not emotionally prepared for ‘Milk.’ It was a brilliant movie with an astounding performance by Sean Penn that left me riveted to my seat. I was equally devastated and fired up after seeing the film. The parallels of what was happening in California in 2008 versus California in 1978 with Proposition 6 were uncanny. We were fighting for the same rights these freedom fighters were fighting for back then, the only difference was they were successful. I left the theater not only in tears, but with a fire in my belly to never giving up on the good fight. Harvey Milk has become a muse, an inspiration and a huge hero in my life.

‘Milk’ was a powerful film that received many accolades, especially for Sean Penn. It has remained one of my favorite movies and one that I own on DVD and watch every now and again when I need that fire lit under me again. Every time I vote, I think of Harvey Milk and all of those early warriors that helped make my life a little easier. I can only hope the work and activism we continue today makes the world even easier for the next generations to come.

Today’s Thoughts: “I ask this… If there should be an assassination, I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out – – If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door… And that’s all. I ask for the movement to continue. Because it’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power… it’s about the “us’s” out there. Not only gays, but the Blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s. Without hope, the us’s give up – I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. So you, and you, and you… You gotta give em’ hope… you gotta give em’ hope.”

When I created my list of most influential movies of all time, I had no idea that ‘Milk’ was going to be the movie that fell on Election Day. To say that it is an appropriate film for today would be an understatement. As we patiently waited to hear the outcome of this very stressful election in America, my husband and I sat down to watch ‘Milk.’

It really is a marvelous film and one that all non-voting Americans should watch, because all votes count and all votes matter. Period. It is astounding to me that people still do not vote in elections, and even more astounding that I didn’t vote my first ten years I was registered. If I could go back in time and slap the shit out of me, trust me, I would.

I am never not moved when I watch this movie. How could I not be? Harvey Milk and all of those men and women fought for me without even knowing me. That’s powerful stuff. I reach for the Kleenex when I watch this movie many, many times. The performances are all brilliant led by the wonderful Mr. Penn. Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco and company beautifully represent all of those rebels fighting the good fight. It is an emotional film, but one that does give you hope for the future.

‘Milk’ should be required viewing for all high school government classes and Mr. Harvey Milk should be given more recognition for his accomplishments. I certainly did not hear about him in high school. If I did, maybe my path would have been a little bit different. This film comes highly recommended, especially if you live in America. Before or after you watch the movie today, vote Democrat. I did, both for the memory of my mom and Harvey Milk.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Sean Penn (winner), Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, Dustin Lance Black (winner), Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year (nomination), Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Josh Brolin (nomination), Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing, Gus Van Sant (nomination), Academy Award for Best Achievement in Film Editing, Elliot Graham (nomination), Academy Award for Best Achievement in Costume Design, Danny Glicker (nomination), Academy Award for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Danny Elfman (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Sean Penn (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Film (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actor, Sean Penn (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay – Original, Dustin Lance Black (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Make Up & Hair, Steven E. Anderson, Michael White (nomination), Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, Sean Penn (winner), Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, Josh Brolin (nomination), Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (nomination), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Acting Ensemble (winner), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, Sean Penn (winner), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Film (nomination), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, Josh Brolin (nomination), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, James Franco (nomination), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Director, Gus Van Sant (nomination), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Writer, Dustin Lance Black (nomination), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Composer, Danny Elfman (nomination), Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Gus Van Sant (nomination), Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male, James Franco (winner), Film Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, Dustin Lance Black (winner), Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead, Sean Penn (nomination), Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography, Harris Savides (nomination), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, Sean Penn (winner), National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films (winner), National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor, Josh Brolin (winner), National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor, Sean Penn (winner), National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor, Josh Brolin (nomination), National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director, Gus Van Sant (nomination), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film (winner), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor, Sean Penn (winner), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, Josh Brolin (winner), PGA Stanley Kramer Award, Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen (winner), PGA Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures, Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen (nomination), Writers Guild of America Paul Selvin Honorary Award, Dustin Lance Black (winner), Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay, Dustin Lance Black (winner).

Ways to Watch: Hulu, Sling TV, Starz, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, DVD Availability.

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