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As one of the first openly gay politicians in the country to be elected to public office, Harvey Milk was a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community. Born on May 22, 1930, the native New Yorker rose to become an outspoken human rights activist, and an impassioned champion of LGBTQ rights. Milk was assassinated in 1978, just one year after being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. More than 40 years after his death, Milk continues to be celebrated as an inspirational and courageous leader in the fight for equal rights.
To commemorate “Harvey Milk Day,” we curated a list of movies and books that will help you learn more about the LGBT icon. From biographies and documentaries, to a true crime thriller that delves into the unanswered questions behind his assassination, the roundup features a variety of fascinating reads, and a couple of Oscar-winning films. Find our selection below, and for more cinematic recommendations, check out the best LGBTQ movies and TV shows to buy and stream, and more box sets from fan favorite films and shows.
“An Archive of Hope” features a collection of Milk’s own words as told through speeches, columns, editorials, political campaign materials, open letters, press releases, newspapers, personal collections, and more from a vault of public records. The book’s forward was penned by Frank Robinson, a friend and political advisor to the slain politician.
Sean Penn stars in this 2008 biopic directed by Gus Van Sant. Penn won an Oscar for his leading role in the film, which you can rent on Amazon Prime, but you’ll have to act fast before it leaves the platform. It’s also on Netflix, and of course, you can always purchase a Blu-ray copy.
“Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk” is an illustrated companion piece to the film. The book includes oral histories, archival photographs, behind-the-scenes stills, and the story behind the biopic, written by the screenwriter of the film “Milk.”
This Oscar-winning documentary narrated by Harvey Fierstein, and directed by Robert Epstein (“The Celluloid Closet,” “Paragraph 175”), details Milk’s rise from local activist and novice politician to a pioneer of gay rights. The gripping documentary showcases archival footage and heartfelt interviews about the visionary politician.
Lillian Faderman blends personal and political details in this 2019 biography. “Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death” outlines the influence that Milk’s Jewish upbringing had on his life, despite rejecting Judaism as a religion.
“Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk” by Mike Weiss
This true crime thriller offers the hidden details of how one man got away with the double murder of two San Francisco politicians. Dan White, a onetime San Francisco supervisor, former police officer and Vietnam War veteran, who opposed gay rights, murdered Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on the same day in November 1978. After using what became known as the “Twinkie Defense,” White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. White served five years of a seven-year sentence before committing suicide less than two years after his prison release.
Andrew Reynolds highlights courageous figures from around the globe making their voices heard amid the fight for equal rights. “The Children of Harvey Milk” includes rare vignettes of LGBTQ leaders in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, who continue to fight for equality in spite of ongoing threats of violence and homophobia.
“Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” illustrates the history of the LGBTQ flag for young readers. Beginning with its origins in 1978 through the work of Milk and Gilbert Bakers, the children’s book outlines how the flag became a global symbol of LGBTQ pride.