The story of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay politician elected to a major office in the U.S., and who was assassinated by a fellow San Francisco City Supervisor, is a biography of a social movement as well as of a ground-breaking activist. The Focus Features release was nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture.
By CBSNews.com producer David Morgan
Harvey Milk (right), uncannily portrayed in the film by Sean Penn, had just turned 40 when, tiring of his closeted life in the New York insurance world, he moved to San Francisco with his new lover. Milk's growth as an activist promoting gay rights and attacking anti-gay initiatives led to a nationwide reputation for one preaching tolerance of "alternative" lifestyles.
Milk, whose story was told in the Oscar-winning 1984 documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk," ran unsuccessfully for office three times before winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977.
It was on Castro Street where Milk opened a photography store in 1972, which became the area's focal point for community organizing and activism. The filmmakers recreated Castro Camera in the very same storefront, with a similarly acute attention to detail paid to period costumes, hair styles and decor.
Scott And Harvey
Harvey's partner Scott Smith (James Franco) grew disenchanted with the pressures of public activism upon their private life and left, even as Milk grew closer to winning election to California government.
Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men") plays Dan White, a fellow city supervisor who expressed moral indignation over Milk's lifestyle (and antipathy for Milk's greater success in creating coalitions to pass city resolutions).
As Milk began organizing the gay community and, later, ran for public office, the death threats grew. He said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."
Milk campaigned against Proposition Six, which would have forced the firing of any gay teacher. "In the Declaration of Independence it is written 'All men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights," Milk said. "[To] all the bigots out there, no matter how hard you try, you cannot erase those words from the Declaration of Independence." The proposition was soundly defeated.
As news of the assassinations of Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone spread, tens of thousands joined an impromptu candlelight march to City Hall -- a demonstration of mourning which was recreated for the film.
Gus Van Sant
Like "Milk," many of director Gus Van Sant's films (including "Drugstore Cowboy" with Matt Dillon, top left, and "My Own Private Idaho" with Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, middle) depict characters who either struggle to gain acceptance into the mainstream of society, or settle to remain on the fringes, even if it leads to self-destruction. He received an Oscar nomination for directing "Good Will Hunting."
Sean Penn is photographed at the world premiere of "Milk" on Oct. 28, 2008, in San Francisco.
Emile Hirsch And Diego Luna
Actors Emile Hirsch (right) and Diego Luna arrive at the world premiere of "Milk," Oct. 28, 2008, in San Francisco. Hirsch, who starred in the Sean Penn-directed "Into the Wild," plays activist Cleve Jones. Luna, who plays Milk's lover Jack Lira, starred in the critically-acclaimed "Y Tu Mam
Actress Alison Pill (shown here at the world premiere of "Milk" on Oct. 28, 2008, in San Francisco) plays Anne Kronenberg, a lesbian who led Milk's first winning campaign. In addition to the film "Dan in Real Life," Pill has numerous TV credit sincluding "CSI," "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," and "The Book of Daniel."
Sean Penn And Robin Wright Penn
Sean Penn arrives with his wife Robin Wright Penn at the L.A. premiere of "Milk," at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nov. 13, 2008.
Sean Penn And Josh Brolin
Best Actor winner Sean Penn receives a kiss from his "Milk" co-star and Best Supporting Actor winner Josh Brolin at the 2008 New York Film Critic's Circle Awards at Strata on Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, in New York.