There was a lot of history in this movie that I didn’t know about, partly because I was a teenager at the time and caught up in teenage issues, partly because as a white straight middle-class male, I was not affected adversely by civil right issues.
Back in the 1970ies, being gay in America was not what it is today. But then again, I have lived in the 5th largest city in the United States in Southern California for the last 25 years, so the term “gay” and what it means in our society for me is probably different than it would be if I lived in Utah, Kansas, Louisiana, or West Virginia, to name just a few places.
This movie tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office in the United States, the board of supervisors of the city of San Francisco. Getting there took years of work, hard work, running, losing, running again, losing again, vision, hope, dedication and tremendous personal sacrifice.
Initially I found it odd to be watching men kissing on my screen, but then I got used to it, and eventually I identified with all the people in the movie and found myself rooting for them.
Sean Penn is an amazing actor. The man can play anything, anybody. He works the character to the most minute detail, and he creates an utterly convicing homosexual man. An eyebrow raised at the right time, gestures during his speeches, the way he uses his voice, the way he walks, all fits. And no, he is not playing the stereotypical flamboyant and flaming gay. Not at all. He does it just right.
Watching Sean Penn act in this movie alone is reason enough to watch it.
But learning what our country went through to help break down civil rights barriers makes this all the more worthwhile. Why do we label people as openly gay, or not openly gay? Why does it matter to us what people do in their houses and their bedrooms? Why do we have difficulty dealing with people that are different from us? Why, after all these years, are we still prejudiced?
Harvey Milk preached that we need hope, above all hope, to overcome. And he made a difference.
Barack Obama wrote about the Audacity of Hope. And he is making a difference.