My colleague and friend Kerry got tickets to see a preview of Milk tonight. Ok, it was at the Odeon, hardly the most exciting of cinematic experiences, but it’s a film we were both planning to see, and it was free, so who can complain?
For those that don’t know, it’s the story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first elected gay public official in America. And he was elected in the latter part of the 70s – i.e. not very long ago.
Although it’s a true story, I won’t give the plot away for those that don’t know, but one of the key factors in it is the battle over a proposition that protected the rights of gay people. If this was taken away (and I can’t tell you whether it was or not, spoilers), it would mean that gay people could be sacked from any job for being gay (the focus for some of the homophobic campaigners was on removing teachers from office, even though, as Milk points out, child molesters are mostly straight), could be evicted from their homes, and even straight people who supported gay people could be sacked/evicted.
I’ve seen these kinds of stories before, most often relating to race, but not so close to this time period. The final act of the film takes place about five minutes before I was born. The whole of the film takes part during the life of Kerry’s boyfriend, David, who is 39.
The homophobia is shocking, just as racism onscreen is also shocking, and even more so for the fact that it is about homophobia through law and through society, rather than homophobia through personal assault etc, the kind of thing we are probably more used to seeing on film. However, the most shocking thing is the recency of the whole thing. I just think of all my friends who are gay, and that if we were in so-called civilised America, just thirty or so years ago, we could all have been faced with losing our jobs and our homes either for being gay or being friends with people who are.
On the one hand it makes me so amazed and so thankful for how far the world has come; but on the other hand, I look at things like all the votes to repeal gay marriage and whatnot in the US* and see how far we still have to go.
Oh, and the film? It’s great. Watch it. Better than Australia and shorter than Changeling.
* I can understand that some people reading this may not approve of the term gay ‘marriage’, and I sympathise with that viewpoint, although I disagree with it. However, it is surely a civil rights liberty for gay people not to have the right to be legally registered in a partnership.