I finally got a chance to watch Milk on DVD, and thought it was terrific.  I knew that he was a gay politician and that he had been killed, and that was about it.  Having learned a little about him, I now want to know more — after watching the movie, I added The Times of Harvey Milk (which is a documentary about him) to my queue.

If the movie is portraying him fairly, Harvey Milk was a natural-born politician, able to talk to almost anyone, able to bring people together, able to make people have hope in spite of themselves.  Watching the scenes of him leading crowds, knowing what was coming, was almost unbearable.

One of my favorite professors in college used to talk about "Dante's influence on Virgil" meaning that after the Inferno, no one ever looked at the Aeneid the same way.  In the same way, Milk's story resonates differently today, in the age of Obama, with half a dozen states recognizing same-sex marriages, than it could possibly have resonated in 1984, when the documentary was made.

In the movie, Milk insists that all of his friends have to start coming out to their families and straight friends, because once your image of "the gays" is replaced by the face of someone you know, it's hard to hate.  It made me wonder how the equality movement would be different if AIDS hadn't hit the gay community so hard during the 1980s.  HIV/AIDS forced people out of the closet who would have stayed quiet otherwise.  And it's certainly hard to imagine that the right to marry would have become such a central focus of the gay and lesbian movement if the bathhouse culture of the 1970s had continued on.

I highly recommend the movie if you haven't seen it yet.

3 Responses to “Milk”

  1. Urbanartiste Says:

    I also rented the documentary after watching the film and liked it better. I would rather hear the experience of real people rather than an actor’s interpretation. It is interesting to compare the two as well and what things Hollywood likes to emphasize. The second boyfriend was never mentioned in the documentary. It is also interesting that dan white killed himself not long after the documentary was released.

  2. kathy a. Says:

    i moved to san francisco in 1979 for law school, shortly after harvey milk and mayor moscone were killed — and not so very long before aids/hiv was identified. i think those events changed the local landscape in so many ways, and maybe are still helping change things nationally.
    the main office of the california supreme court is kitty-corner from SF city hall — where milk and moscone were killed, where so many couples married a few years ago after the supremes declared a constitutional right to marriage. i know they have and do rely on LGBT staff. it will break my bleeding heart if they come out the wrong way on prop. 8.

  3. Margaret in NJ Says:

    I have thought about this for many years, that HIV/AIDS forced gay people out of the closet, and that made everyone else realize that gays were people we already knew and loved. For a while there, around 1988 or 1990, it seemed like everyone I knew had some connection to a person with AIDS, maybe a relative, coworker, acquaintance, whatever. Even my mother had old friends whose son was ill. Suddenly gays became real people.
    I have often wondered if this is one of the problems with abortion. It’s so common, yet speaking about it is absolutely taboo. I’ve seen some numbers (probably from Guttmacher) that one in three women has had an abortion by age 45. If every woman who has had an abortion came out of the closet, wouldn’t that change the discussion?

Leave a Reply

nine − = 7