After you watch Sean Penn in the big-screen motion picture Milk, go rent the 1985 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and see the real man, his contemporaries and his time for yourself. I was a small kid when Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay elected official in San Francisco, was assassinated by the outraged fundamentalist Christian politician Dan White. Thanks to the whisper-only discussion of homosexuality in the small town where I grew up, I didn’t know the event had ever happened until I went to college and saw this documentary.
As the title suggests, The Times of Harvey Milk is about more than Harvey Milk himself. It’s about the change he represented from the status quo for gay America, which was secret, furtive and ashamed. It’s about the reaction to him not just from gay San Francisco but from San Francisco straights both liberal and conservative. And it’s about the effect of Milk’s assassination on the history and culture of San Francisco. When a conservative Republican talks about those San Francisco values, you’ll know what he or she is talking about, and who he or she is aligning with, after you watch this documentary. Interviews with politicians and activists of the day, along with footage of silent processions and riots, earned the documentary an Oscar.