From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Milk is a 2008 biographical film on the life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film stars Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as Milk's assassin, Supervisor Dan White. The film was released to much acclaim and earned numerous accolades from film critics and guilds. Ultimately, it received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for Dustin Lance Black.
Attempts to put Milk's life to film followed a 1984 Oscar-winning documentary of his life and the aftermath of his assassination, titled The Times of Harvey Milk, which was loosely based upon Randy Shilts' biography, The Mayor of Castro Street. Various scripts were considered in the early 1990s, but projects fell through for different reasons, until 2007. Much of Milk was filmed on Castro Street and other locations in San Francisco, including Milk's former storefront, Castro Camera.
Milk begins on Harvey Milk's 40th birthday, when he was living in New York City and had not yet settled in San Francisco. It chronicles his foray into city politics, and the various battles he waged in the Castro neighborhood as well as throughout the city, and political campaigns to limit the rights of gay people in 1977 and 1978 run by Anita Bryant and John Briggs. His romantic and political relationships are also addressed, as is his tenuous affiliation with troubled Supervisor Dan White; the film ends with White's double murder of Milk and Mayor George Moscone. The film's release was tied to the 2008 California voter referendum on gay marriage, Proposition 8, when it made its premiere at the Castro Theatre two weeks before election day.