Sean Penn/Harvey Milk (23 cents)

Sean Penn was an outstanding Harvey Milk and if he wins an Oscar, it will be very well deserved.

But the movie as a whole (“Milk”) disappointed me.  It provided some interesting history, and showed how recently discrimination on the basis of sexual preference was deemed politically correct.  It demonstrated the fragility of some of those rights we now too often take for granted.  And it showed how an individual can be transformed once he or she fixates on an important goal.

But for me, that wasn’t enough.  I didn’t think the cinematography was very good, although the sometime seemless melding of new and old shots was inventive.  My biggest problem was the shallowness of so many of the characterizations.  These people must have had facets of their personality that went beyond their sexuality, but you couldn’t tell it from the film.

Now, 1978 was 30 years ago which, on the one hand, is a long time ago, but on the other is not, and there are certain many around who lived through those times.  Perhaps they can tell me that I’m wrong, that this is in fact how it was.

Just a little hard for me to believe.

9 thoughts on “Sean Penn/Harvey Milk (23 cents)

  1. Am I missing something? What are the rights we now take for granted? What do you mean “showed how recently discrimination on the basis of sexual preference was deemed politically correct”? Isn’t it now politically correct, in California, and most other states, to discriminate against gays?

  2. I guess it depends on your definition of politically correct. See this map http://www.npr.org/news/specials/gaymarriage/map/; it looks to me like the majority of Americans think that gays should remain second class citizens. Many gays stay in the closet for fear of losing jobs. I don’t think we’ve come all that far since the 1970s.

    Re: the movie, I thought the Dan White character was well done and Brolin did some convincing acting. Whatever its flaws, I still say Milk is the best of the five movies nominated for best picture (yes, I think it is better than Slumdog).

    • I guess I don’t think of ‘gay marriage’ when I think of sexual orientation discrimination. I think gay marriage is a different type of question. I think it goes to a separate, larger issue of how benefits are permitted to be shared amongst people of varying relationships. And until it is addressed more broadly, the gay marriage situation will continue to be a flashpoint, and will potentially lead to avoidable problems.

  3. I think I need to join this conversation. I haven’t seen all the nominated films, but I did think “Milk” would have my vote over “Slumdog Millionaire,” which probably will win.

    I sort of knew the history, but not the details. The bothersome part of “Milk” to me was how little things have changed, not how much. Almost everywhere that there is a gay related issue on a ballot the anti-gay faction wins. With the exception of a few places, gays have lost rights. In Michigan, an anti-gay marriage law passed a few years ago that removed “partner” benefits such as health care that gays had for quite a while. The University of Michigan, and some other (but not all) universities tried a set of work around rules, but so far nothing has been restored.

    In the film, one gets the idea that the political action of Milk and his associates really made a difference, and it probably did among some people. Certainly we now recognize that there are many more gay and lesbian people than we ever would have believed, at least two in my extended family. The emphasis on “coming out” was important socially, but what has changed so much in the formal/legal sense? The Milk line about gays being everywhere made an important political point that helped me to understand, though not support, outing. Maybe if one lives in Massachusetts and stays there, or one of the states where there are domestic partnerships things really are different/better, but not in most other places. My daughter cannot understand how her cousin and his partner can continue to live in Georgia. Why don’t they just move! Easier said than done these days.

    Interestingly, a few of my docent friends, all “good” liberals and over 70, were quite bothered by the same sex affection shown in “Milk.” I was a bit surprised and asked them if they were bothered by hetero sex scenes in other films and/or homosexuality in general. In both cases, the answer was “no.” Maybe Charlie has an explanation for this.

  4. For someone over 70, watching 2 people of the same sex, esp men, have sex was a clear taboo when they were growing up (and as adults). Not so with hetero sex. The abstract idea of homosexuality is much easier to accept than the in-your-face reality. Other than that, I don’t have a psychiatric explanation (other than to ask the individuals what they think is going on with them).

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