Irony held center stage at the press conference for “Milk,” Gus Van Sant’s passionate biopic about the first openly gay man elected to higher office in the United States, that took place at The Regency Hotel in Manhattan a little more than two weeks after the passing of California’s (heavily financed by the Mormon Church) Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It was Supervisor Harvey Milk himself who had been instrumental in the defeat of California’s Proposition 6 (a battle featured prominently in the film), which had been openly opposed by everyone from Governor Jerry Brown to Carter and Reagan. The victory over the measure that would have effectively banned homosexual teachers and their allies from the public school system occurred in the same (non-election) year Milk was assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, exactly three decades ago this month. Since those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, it’s no surprise Harvey Milk is not a household name, not even to the many young actors starring in Milk, who became aware of him only upon receiving the script.
And this is something Van Sant, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (who grew up gay and Mormon in California, and was the sole Mormon writer/producer on the Mormon-themed “Big Love” – yes, as I said, irony ruled the day!) and the panel of actors, including Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), James Franco (Milk’s lover Scott), Josh Brolin (assassin Dan White), Alison Pill (campaign manager Anne Kronenberg) and Emile Hirsch (Milk protégé/activist Cleve Jones) have set out to rectify.
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