Thursday, July 03, 2008

Reel People: Sean Penn is Harvey Milk

The film is Milk, the newest film directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forester, Drugstore Cowboy).

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was born in 1930 in New York, the grandson of the owner of Milk's Department Store. In 1951 Harvey Milk graduated from University of Albany, and then went on to join the Navy.

Milk was honorably discharged from the Navy, but later claimed his discharge was the result of a purging of homosexual military men.

After the Navy, he lived in Dallas, Texas for awhile before returning to New York to work on Wall street as well as serve as an Assistant Director on Broadway plays.

In 1972 Harvey Milk and his gay partner Scott Smith moved to the Castro district of San Fransisco, where he opened up the store Castro Camera. In this role, he also began representing neighborhood businesses in dealing with the city government. As he took more political roles people began to refer to him as the Mayor of Castro Street.

Harvey Milk ran for city office in 1973 and 1975, and did not get elected, but when the new liberal mayor of San Fransisco, George Moscone took office he credited the gay and lesbian communities and appointed Milk to the Board of Permit Appeals.

In 1977, San Fransisco switched to district elections which created far more diversity in the San Fransisco political elections, opening up an opportunity for Milk, where he was elected to the Board of Supervisors, where he took office January 1978. Along with Milk one of the elected officials to the Board was former police officer and fire fighter Dan White, a conservative anti-gay official.

Harvey Milk was often in the media spotlight especially when he was debating State Senator Jason Briggs. One of Senator Briggs' biggest propositions (Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative) was to prohibit homosexuals teaching in public schools. At the same time Milk was also sponsoring initiatives to not allow anti-gay discrimination to occur in the workplace.

Dan White was very unhappy about the way the political winds were blowing and resigned his seat, and although he later rescinded his resignation, Mayor Moscone at Milk's encouraging, made it so White resignation was finalized.

The morning that Moscone was going to announce the resignation of Dan White, White assassinated both Moscone and Milk by entering through an unlocked window in San Fransisco City Hall. White then left the scene and with his wife went to Saint Mary's Cathedral and turned himself in. There was much response in San Fransisco with candlelight marches from the Castro to city hall.


The screenplay for the film is written by Dustin Lance Black (who has written some for HBO's Big Love series.)

Milk's story has been told before, including the 1984 Academy Award winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk by Rob Epstein. Bryan Singer (X-Men, X-Men 2 & Superman Returns Director and House Producer) has long been announced to be working on his own Harvey Milk film called The Mayor of Castro Street.

In Gus Van Sant's film (which will come out first, which could create a similar issue that happened when Capote and Infamous came out years apart), Sean Penn will play the title role of Milk. James Franco will play Scott Smith, Harvey Milk's long term partner. Victor Garber (Alias) will play the pivotal role of Mayor George Moscone. Josh Brolin will play Dan White. Additional cast includes Emile Hirsh and Diego Luna.

With it's thematic material, and with Gus Van Sant behind the lens, it's hard to imagine that this film will be a box office bonanza, but it certainly stars some critical favorites, and has critical potential.

Will Sean Penn (or other cast members) get some critical attention and and his 5th nomination and/or 2nd win for his portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person?


elgringo said...

Milk filmed in San Francisco, where I live. It was a big deal when the movie came to town. Too many films that take place in SF aren't filmed here. They're filmed in Canada with our important buildings Photoshopped in later. I had friends who were extras in Milk and from what they saw, the movie's going to be great.


Mark said...

Probably in my top 5 fro most anticipated in 2008. It looks great and should have some unforgettable performances. I didn't know too much about Harvey Milk, so that was an interesting read.