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Political/Ideological Issues and Sexuality Issues in the Film Milk - Essay Example

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In the film Milk, director Gus Van Sant articulates his vision regarding Harvey Milk, who was the gay rights activist in the Seventies. …
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Political/Ideological Issues and Sexuality Issues in the Film Milk
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Introduction In the film Milk, director Gus Van Sant articulates his vision regarding Harvey Milk, who was the gay rights activist in the Seventies.Milk was able to bring about profound change for his fellow homosexuals with his wit, charisma and passion. Along the way, the film uses metaphors for the gay rights movement. Milk himself was a metaphor for the gay rights experience. When we meet Milk, he is talking into a microphone, telling his story. He explains into the microphone that he is afraid that he would be murdered, and there was good reason for this – he had had his life threatened numerous times. His travails are symbolic of the gay rights movement, because he was, in effect, the face of the gay rights movement at this time. Meanwhile, Anita Bryant’s role in the movie is symbolic of the prevailing sentiment of bigotry of America at this time. The conflict between Milk and Bryant is therefore a metaphor for the homosexual movement’s struggle for acceptance in the face of a very intolerant America. Discussion Before Harvey Milk got involved in the gay rights movement, the assumption was that there was not really a movement at all. America during this time was bigoted about gays, by and large, and did not really understand homosexuals. Harvey was the one person who was determined that he would bring the rights of gays into the public consciousness, by making sure that people would come out of the closet and into the light, so that everybody would know that they, in fact, know a gay person. Previously, the assumption was that too many gays hid in the closet, so it made it easier to persecute and discriminate against them, because nobody knew that they actually know a gay person. His rise to power was a metaphor for the gay experience. Milk had issues with getting elected to any public office, as the film showed. He ran for office, time and again, and time again was defeated. This is similar to the way that the gay experience was during this time. The movement was in in nascent stages, and the movement suffered many setbacks during this time, just like Harvey Milk. There were anti-discrimination laws which were repealed during this time, therefore gays could be fired from the workplace, just for being gay. There was a lack of understanding about homosexuals, just like Harvey Milk was misunderstood by the mainstream. Harvey Milk was marginalized in the beginning of his career, as shown by the man at the beginning of the film who lectured Milk and his boyfriend, Scott, about “God’s Law verses Man’s Law.” Nevertheless, as Harvey Milk gained more power, as shown, early in his career, by the successful boycott of Coor’s Beer and his success in rallying fellow homosexuals to frequent businesses in the Castro District, this coincided with the rise of the gay movement. Another possible metaphor in the film regarded Harvey’s various apartments. In the film, Harvey never had very nice apartments or very nice things – he was shown to live in very modest homes with aging appliances. This was somewhat surprising, as Harvey was also shown as a successful businessman who was catered to a gay clientele, then, later, he was shown to be a successful politician. One would think that, with his enormous popularity, stature and business acumen, he would be able to move into a nicer place. Perhaps a Victorian home, or, at the very least, a nicer apartment. However, Harvey stayed in very run-down places. This is a metaphor, as well, for the gay rights movement, because the movement continues to struggle, despite gaining considerable power in the 1970s. This is shown by the fact that, in the vast majority of states, gays still cannot legally marry. There is still persecution of homosexuals by unhinged gay bashers. In short, gays still do not have equal rights in society, and they are still singled out for their sexual orientation. Harvey’s residence reflects this – Harvey himself gained some power and success, but never truly made it out of the “ghetto.” The gay rights movement is the just the same. Finally, Anita Bryant was shown as a metaphor for the traditional way that Americans thought about homosexuals. She was shown, in the film, warning that homosexuals wanted to “recruit” the children of America, because homosexuals are unable to have children of their own. Moreover, she was instrumental in getting anti-discrimination laws repealed in the State of Florida, as well as in other parts of the country. This is perhaps the way that the country thought about homosexuals before Harvey Milk and the gay rights movement – that homosexuals have an agenda to recruit children into their lifestyle. While this is still a prominent sentiment today by right wing activists, America is fortunately more tolerant as a whole regarding homosexuals. However, at this time, there is reason to believe that the majority of Americans believed as Bryant did, which is why Bryant’s crusade was so successful. Therefore, while Milk was the face of the gay rights movement, therefore a metaphor for the movement, the same could be said for Bryant, on the opposite end. She was the face of the anti-gay rights movement, and the conflict between Milk’s forces and Bryant’s forces is symbolic of the homosexuals struggle for power in the face of a very intolerant America. Conclusion In Milk, Harvey Milk is the face of the gay rights movement. His struggles mirror the struggles of homosexuals to be accepted in society and to not be discriminated against. Meanwhile, America was presumably intolerant during this era, as personified by Anita Bryant. This film illustrates the gay rights struggle in face of intolerance by showing Harvey Milk battling Bryant. Read More
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