After months of narrowly-missing opportunities to see Gus Van Sant’s Milk, I finally finally got around to it today, between my morning pot-of-coffee/Gilmore Girls-rerun combo and afternoon domestic duties (the household bullshit I use to keep myself sane while imprisoned at home on break). What can I say, but that the film is positively brilliant? It’s, quite simply, made of win (look! I’m internet-lingo-savvy!) on all fronts: the cinematography is stunning, not to mention the seamless blending of old news footage; the performances are nuanced and haunting; and of course, the story (‘true,’ or as close as we can get to it in the medium of the biopic) is both emotionally resonant and politically relevant. Sean Penn is, gasp!, suddenly a warm and empathetic performer! James Franco is darkly brooding eye candy, made strangely to resemble Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. Emile Hirsch is adorable and borderline-fanatical, but a joy to watch; Diego Luna is, well, sort of frightening and not particularly likeable (until his, uh, final scene). Also, that kid from High School Musical plays a super-twinky hanger-on, and looks great doing it. It’s a brilliant (sorry to recycle the word here) ensemble cast, a great script, and a powerful reminder of how great a distance the gay movement has travelled—but also a reminder of how far we’ve yet to go.
I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, though I’m leaning towards the former, but Van Sant’s decision to meld news footage with the film (without calling attention to it as old news footage) was a particularly evocative way of tying the gay movement’s present and past along a sort of ‘spectrum of struggle.’ There is not as visible or identifiable a divide as we like to think—there isn’t so much a delineated post-Stonewall era that so many tend to cite in discussing our so-called progress. It’s easy, today, to say that we reside in a progressive world where sexual orientation is no longer a factor in deciding our social position; that we can move about freely amongst the ‘enemy’ without fear of oppression. But then think of the fact that California has not only passed Proposition 8, but upheld it amidst much protest. I wonder what Harvey Milk would think of that. And I wonder how the fuck the proponents of Prop 8, and those who has supported and subsequently upheld it, sleep at night, knowing that they’ve consciously taken action to limit the civil rights of their fellow (alleged) ‘citizens’ of Our Great Country (I say this last part with a wink, if you can’t tell).
My concern is, of course, first and foremost related to myself—a gay male ‘citizen’ of the United States—and my rights, or lack thereof, in this country. And this extends to everyone else who has risked harassment, financial/legal/emotional/social discrimination, or even physical violence in living their lives in the way they choose. But below the surface, perhaps the deepest well of fear to be drawn from here, is the kind of slippery slope this places our legal system on. It’s very easy to say that one group’s rights are ‘justifiably’ regulated in order to uphold the moral fiber of this ‘great’ nation; but where do we fall from there? I’m no paranoiac or conspiracy theorist, but the association with Hitler’s persecutions certainly comes to mind, even if only in the most extreme of moments. I’m not saying that we’re heading towards a fascist state, but that it frightens me to think that I’m living in a world where people are still capable of validating the legality of the denial of basic human civil rights. And mind you, all of this political babble is coming from a fag who doesn’t even believe in the marriage institution! I have no interest in anything but universal civil unions; the whole she-bang is far too inextricable from religion for my personal (and atheistic) tastes.