Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. Milk's life leading up to his election, his successful efforts to politically represent San Francisco's gay community, and the city's reaction to the assassinations are documented with extensive news film and personal recollections. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
As president of the board of supervisors, it's my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed. The suspect is Supervisor Dan White.
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Epstein (and Friedman) make documentaries by assembling talking heads, news footage, and narration -- they make documentaries about events and phenomena, not about detailing lives as they happen. This is an event timepiece, and it hits a weak spot in me -- it's a good movie regardless, but it twists something that makes my heart ache. The movie itself might not warrant such a high rating, but what it depicts does evoke very strong emotions, specifically in the last half hour: you come out of the movie shattered and raging. It's a very lean hour and-a-half, and it manages to cram in as much of a sense of the time, at least in terms of the gay perspective, as possible. Epstein's movie is about the gay experience, but he's not a propagandist: he's more than willing to show that the Democratic Jimmy Carter didn't want to be photographed with Milk, that his sister offered to "cure" Milk of his homosexuality through religion; and he's open to showing that Ronald Reagan, much despised in the gay community, did not support California's Proposition 6, which would make it legal to fire existing teachers who were openly gay.
The film's aim is to make a martyr out of Milk -- but then, he is one, isn't he? He knew his own assassination was coming, or felt that it could; it's why he taped his own will assuming it might be heard if in fact he was assassinated (though he likely wouldn't have known it would be an angry former fellow city supervisor who would kill him). When the head of the city supervisors announces that the mayor and Milk have been killed, presumably by Dan White, distraught about not being re-selected as a city supervisor after resigning the position and then wanting it back, it's like an electric shock to the back of your neck, the crowd of news reporters shrieking in disbelief. The story is famous: White, who shoots Milk five times (once in the head), is found guilty only of voluntary manslaughter (and eventually released after just five and-a-half years), and his trial findings result in a street mob. That mob mentality grosses me out, but when citizens furious with the ruling start to firebomb police cars in the street, I couldn't help but feel for them and root them on; this kind of spit in the face to the gay community (and the memory of two dead, innocent men) deserves a gut reaction. There's a difference between mobs fueled by hate and mobs fueled by injustice. When someone says, "We are reacting with anger because we are ANGRY" you feel that anger. When we see thousands of people in the darkened street holdings candles over their heads, you might begin to weep. 9/10
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