May 22nd is Harvey Milk Day an occasion celebrated by thousands of members of the Equality Movement around the world on Harvey’s birthday. In the spirit of the occasion consider holding a movie night with some of the following films.
Gay USA (1978) Directed by Arthur Bressan Jr. who was mostly known for his gay porn but who also wrote and directed Buddies the first feature film about the AIDS epidemic, Gay USA focused on the burgeoning gay rights movement of the 70’s just at the time it faced its first organized backlash courtesy of Anita Bryant and her campaign to repeal anti-discrimination policies in Dade County.
Milk (2008) This incredible biopic directed by Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting) detailing the last years of Harvey’s life including his move to San Francisco, his rise as a community activist and politician, and his untimely death by assassination is quite simply a masterpiece. Sean Penn in the titular role deservedly got most of the attention for his extraordinary performance but he was bolstered by a stellar supporting crew including James Franco as Milk’s longtime lover Scott, Allison Pill as Harvey Milk’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, and a chilling turn by Josh Brolin as murderer Dan White. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for Sean Penn as well as being nominated for six more Oscars.
Stonewall Uprising (2010) This excellent documentary (not to be confused with the widely panned 2015 film Stonewall) was directed by married filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilobroner, tells the story of the massive police raid of Stonewall in June 1969, where to the cops surprise the patrons fought back, thus kicking off the gay rights movement as we know it. The movie features eyewitness accounts of the incident including NYPD deputy inspector Seymour Pine and activist Martha Shelley, as well as archived film of the subsequent riots. It originally aired on PBS.
How to Survive a Plague (2012) This directorial debut by journalist David France chronicles the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the efforts of the activist founders of ACT UP and TAG to lobby the government for effective medical research and treatment. It features interviews with Larry Kramer, Garance Franke-Ruta, Spencer Cox and more. It was awarded Best Documentary by the Gotham Independent Film Awards and the Boston Society of Film Critics, as well as a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Documentary and a Peabody.
Pride (2014) Directed by Matthew Warchus (Simpatico) Pride, tells the true story of how in the summer of 1984, gay rights activists partnered with miners during their lengthy strike reasoning after all that they were both victims under the Thatcher administration. Pride is a remarkably sly and witty look at issues of intersectionality that dominate the Left to this day. The all star cast features, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, and more. The sequence where Dominic West discos on top of tables alone justifies Pride which is both hysterically funny and inspiring at the same time.
Top photo: A bust of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected public official in the U.S., is posted outside his former legislative chamber in San Francisco. Bigstock photo.