The assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, City Supervisor and Mayor, respectively, of San Francisco during the late 70s, occurred just before my family moved to the Bay Area. Regardless, I was too young to understand or appreciate what happened. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about these people after I asked why San Francisco’s convention center is called The Moscone Center. I did not see last year’s Milk, but after seeing The Times of Harvey Milk, there is kind of no point in seeing Sean Penn’s film.

The Times of Harvey Milk is a documentary directed by acclaimed filmmaker Rob Epstein and it won the Academy Award in 1984 for Best Documentary Feature. It is a thorough exploration of the life of Harvey Milk and the events leading to his monumental election to San Francisco’s city council and his eventual assassination. This is an involving film that will appeal to anyone, gay or straight, who is interested in politics and important historical events.

Harvey Milk was someone who can be compared to other minority figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez in the sense that they all were a voice for an unheard and repressed part of our population. Up until Milk’s election, San Francisco politics was still a white-dominated institution that, despite the city’s diversity, was not representative of that diversity and its accompanying issues. Milk’s election was part of a change in the old guard with the election to the city council of the first Asian-American, the first woman, and the first African-American. George Moscone became the new mayor to head up this new, diverse city council.

However, one of the newly elected city council members did not share the liberal views of the rest of the council. His name was Dan White. A former policeman, a firefighter, and a devout Roman Catholic and father, White was the antithesis of Harvey Milk and the gay agenda. The documentary is clearly meant to cover Harvey Milk and what he meant to the gay community. White is portrayed as someone who was confused and behind the times. He is shown to be constantly frustrated by a perceived lack of response by the mayor and the council to the interests of the city’s white conservatives. White’s frustrations eventually lead him to shoot and kill Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk.

The Times of Harvey Milk is told through news footage and interviews with people who were associated with Milk. The admiration and love people had for Milk is obvious through watching the film. Until he came along, the gay community was not represented in city hall so Milk was received as the Castro’s native son (even though he was from New York and had not lived in San Francisco for very long before running for office).

As I watched this documentary, I could not help but compare Harvey Milk to our current U.S. President. Milk was elected NOT because he was gay, but because he held views on various issues affecting San Francisco that were shared by a wide variety of people who were gay and straight, liberal and conservative. Obama, on the other hand, was elected, in my opinion, mostly because of his race and the change it represented by having a black man in the Oval Office. I don’t believe Obama’s political agenda was the motivating factor for those who voted for him.

I watched The Times of Harvey Milk because its about one of the most famous periods in the Bay Area’s history and, for a real life event, its as dramatic as politics gets. I don’t think your enjoyment of the film should depend on whether or not you like homosexuals or whether or not you are liberal. The Times of Harvey Milk is a fascinating and compelling documentation of an important event in California’s history (not to mention a case study in criminal law where we learn about the famous Twinkie Defense) that continues to resonate with people.

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