“My name is Harvey Milk and I am here to recruit you!” The rallying call that Milk offered at the beginning of many speeches he delivered encapsulates the charisma of an individual tragically cut down before his true potential could be realized.
Sean Penn won the SAG award for his portrayal of Harvey Milk and just may be Mickey Rourke’s fiercest competition in the Oscar race for best actor. Here Penn disappears into the role of Harvey Milk who became an unlikely gay rights activist and ultimate martyr for the movement that he so valiantly fought for when he became the first openly gay man to hold public office in the state of California.
The film Milk chronicles his life, beginning at the age of 40 when Milk realizes that he “hasn’t really done anything.” In the eight short years that he unknowingly had left, Milk made up for lost time and galvanized national attention to the gay rights movement. He defied existing negative stereotypes of gay people and portrayed them, through his example, as honest, hard-working individuals dedicated to equal rights-no different than their like-minded heterosexual counterparts.
Along the way, Milk is aided by a veritable cast of characters inspired by his idealism to affect social change. These include his lovers Scott Smith (James Franco in a noteworthy performance) and Jack Lira (Diego Luna) as well as Cleve Jones (an almost unrecognizable Emile Hirsch) and Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill). However, it was his adversarial relationship with fellow city San Francisco city supervisor Dan White (a scarily affecting Josh Brolin also Oscar nominated for his performance) that would prove to be his ultimate undoing.
The impending tragedy that we as the audience know is inevitable before the film’s conclusion is inescapable and serves as a somewhat sorrowful reflection on the two steps forward, two steps backward trend that still affects the progress towards gay rights in the 21st century. Nevertheless, Milk remains a testament to hope and to the people that dare to make a difference in our society. It forces us to truly value the rights that we assume daily-and to recognize the struggles that people experience all over the world in pursuit of those same freedoms. For this reason alone, Milk is worthy of its Oscar nomination for best picture and a movie that people need to see, to share, and to discuss so that Harvey Milk’s vision continues to be realized.