Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Please let me love you and it won't be wrong

(Milk trailer/Focus Features)

We were invited by the Courage Campaign last week to a special screening of the new film "Milk", about San Francisco gay rights activist and city Supervisor Harvey Milk.

For folks here who don't know, the Courage Campaign is a wonderful organization dedicated to "progressive change in California." And among these changes are gay rights. Check out their web site, sign up for the e-newsletter, and contribute if it feels right to you.

The evening was hosted by Courage Campaign founder and all-around great guy Rick Jacobs, who then introduced "Milk" co-producer Dan Jinks.

The story of Milk was huge in California at the time. I clearly remember the Prop. 6 battle of '78. One of my mom's best friends was a wonderful gay elementary school teacher, who was in real fear of losing not only his life's passion, teaching, but also losing his job. I proudly wore a "No on 6" button every day before the election.

This is a tremendous film on so many levels. At times it almost feels like a documentary, as if we were viewing real events as flies on the wall of Milk's Castro Cameras shop. And not only is the story, and the message important, but the acting is just superb. There's always a risk in using a high profile actor, not for the studio bottom-line, of course, but for the story. An actor who is really well-known may overshadow the character they are supposed to play.

Sean Penn is one of the most important, and well-known actors today. And he completely overcame his own fame to become a totally unrecognizable actor inhabiting Harvey Milk's body. This was acting into territory not often found, especially by the many of the two dimensional talents working today. After the first 30 seconds or so, Sean Penn acting on screen ceases to exist, and it just Harvey's story.

Harvey Milk wasn't a perfect guy, he had many faults. But he also had a vision that still needs to be remembered today. He was told by the gay establishment at the time to "go-along, get-along" and not make his crusades about gay issues, but human rights issues. And he refused to do that. And it worked.

There is a portion of the conservative left today that has regressed back to that position: no confrontation, bi-partisanship, give away concessions to get something in return. So in many ways, we haven't progressed much from 1978.

So Milk's story is especially important today, coming on the heels of the horrible CA Prop. 8 recently passed. We all need to take a lesson in political activism from Harvey's story. Tell people the truth about what we are fighting for, and against, and don't let the timid hold us back. While it is about civil rights, it's OK to be for gay rights too.

Listen to Harvey's voice in this great video: