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Go See “Milk,” And Other Observations

Go See "Milk," And Other Observations

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Do you wanna do something progressive for the gay rights movement? Find your most homophobic friend or relative, tell him/her youre going to take them to see Quantum of Solace or Twilight (offer to pay of course, they’ll need incentive), and somehow – be creative – lead them into Milk instead.

Then, when they realize they are in for a gay old time, tell them if you they try and leave you’ll scream “oh my god, this guy just called me a faggot.” Or something. There’s lots of possibilities.

And maybe two hours later, nothing will have changed. They’ll roll their eyes or – god help us – empathize with Dan White and they’ll be some horrible awkwardness on the way out. But maybe they’ll walk out with a morsel of understanding or at the very least, education, on one of the most important stories in the history of gay America. And that’ll probably do more than merely personally vouching for boycotts or resignations.

Because, as we need to remember, the problem of homophobia is a problem of the individual. Individuals that for a variety of reasons don’t understand why Ls and Gs and Bs and Ts deserve equal rights and individuals that would vote for Prop 8 or its many Prop sisters and brothers. These individuals are the ones that probably won’t give two shits if Sundance doesn’t happen or Rich Raddon resigns. These people need more compassionate activism if gay people really want America to be a better place.

And it sucks that it has to be this way. But it is this way. And if you are already on the morally just side of the gay divide, and are wondering what you can do to help, watch Harvey Milk (or, rather, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk). Watch the way he does things. Watch the way his circle does things. Elements of it are certainly going on all over, to be sure. I witnessed rallies in California, days after seeing Milk and was brought to tears at the energy and passion in those crowds.

But it still has to come back to the individual. Just an example, but what about people that aren’t out to their parents* or co-workers or acquaintances but think Rich Raddon should have been fired (or, cough, saw Twilight, in which case you’re simply a hypocrite)? You people need to realize how much difference it makes for someone who loves you to know your gay. It can truly change a mind, and have a chain reaction of changed minds. Through generations.

Because the Mormon church isn’t going to change. It’s a religion. A cult, even. One I’m totally against as an institution. But Rich Raddon is just a pawn in a much bigger game. He’s part of something that manipulates people into giving away money for horrible, hateful causes. But he himself is not the problem. What he needs is compassionate activism, not a witch hunt. Mormons and fundamentalists and other homophobes can very often just be good people in need of a nudge. I’ve met many. And Harvey Milk: He knew how to nudge.

Anyway, back to Milk. I saw the film a month ago and though its certainly not a perfect film cinematically, its more than good enough, and perhaps subjective critical opinion doesn’t matter anyway. As indieWIRE‘s Chris Wisniewski said in his review:

Each viewer’s reaction to “Milk” will likely depend on his or her political orientation and investment in its subject; when a film speaks so directly to its culture and its moment — even if its timeliness is coincidental — how could it be otherwise?

And besides, even if I was a film critic, and the point of this entry was to share with you my critical thoughts, I couldn’t compete with the poignancy of Chris’s or New York Times’ AO Scott‘s reviews, which pretty much sum up my thoughts entirely anyway:

So with no small bias, and a corresponding sense of urgency and advocacy, I implore you to see “Milk” — not because it’s a perfect film or even a great one, but because it is inspiring and deeply moving, beautiful and sad, searingly personal and boldly political.

So if you want some encouragement, read those reviews in full. But you shouldn’t need it. Just go, and take anyone – tolerant or intolerant. And then, when youre done (or if you’ve already seen it), go watch “The Times of Harvey Milk”. And if you need encouragement in that regard (self-promotion alert!), read my interview with its director, Rob Epstein.

Finally, and most cheesily, on Thanksgiving – whether your American or not – give thanks for Harvey Milk. He died 30 years ago today, and if it wasn’t for him and all of his nudges, I’m not really sure where we’d be.

*-I do understand there are some instances in which parents are truly not an option, and for those people, I did not intend that comment to stir up unnecessary guilt.

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