Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Milk: Don't Blend In

I just came back from seeing Milk, at a screening courtesy of Focus Features and The New York Times.  It's a tour de force performance from Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the visionary San Francisco politician and gay rights leader who was assassinated 30 years ago next week, along with the city's mayor George Moscone.

A good deal of the film's midsection deals with the historic defeat of California's Proposition 6 in 1978, which sought an immediate firing of all gay teachers and even those who support them.   Milk famously took on California state senator John Briggs, the proposition's main proponent, and won, ensuring that civil rights were protected for all in California.

Ironically, exactly 30 years later, we've taken a giant step backward with this month's recently passed Proposition 8, which repealed the civil right to marry which had already been granted to gay couples in California this past spring.  Milk was in production in 2007-08 -- meaning that filmmaker Gus Van Sant must have been familiar with the prospect of Prop 8, and its eerie parallels to the Prop 6 debate of '78.  Packed with vintage news clips and interview snippets, the film shows the talking heads of the day making the same points back then, on both sides of the issue, that we just heard this fall.

It's sad that so few things have changed.  At many points during the film, we see hatemonger Anita Bryant on her crusade against homosexuals; her argument, and Briggs', that they're in the right "because God says so" is unfortunately still the logic employed by religious zealots and bigots today.  But seeing Bryant on screen actually made me feel good.  Because her remarks, shown completely in context, show her for the villainess she truly was, it made me think:  30 years from now, in 2038, when someone makes Prop 8:  The Movie, perhaps the self-righteous, so-called Christians of today will also be revealed for the evildoers they are.  

And as for Anita Bryant, according to the internet, today she's still alive at age 68.  I can only hope that, if there truly is karmic justice in this world, she'll be headed in the upcoming years to some old folks' home, to be tended by some big, vengeful queen of a nurse, who'll secretly be shitting in her orange juice.

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