Film & Ideology - Milk

Topics: Gus Van Sant, Milk, Homosexuality Pages: 7 (2616 words) Published: May 12, 2010
Assignment 2 – Film and Ideology

The definition of the word ideology can be represented in many ways. Today’s basic understanding of the word can be defined as “the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture” (Farlex, 2009).Gus Van Sant’s exceptional biopic Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008) depicts the story of Harvey Milk, the slain gay-rights activist who became the first openly gay man elected to any substantial political office in the history of the planet. Harvey Milk’s life changed history – his courage still motivates people today, his ideals still teach people today and his hope still inspire people today. The release of Milk in 2008 has helped to bring back a new sense of appreciation for the hope and passion that Harvey Milk died for. Milk beautifully shows the fights and struggles Harvey Milk had to go through to gain the trust of the people and in order for his ideologies of a brighter tomorrow for all queer people to be fully appreciated by everyone. Harvey Milk was an individual who did not die in vain; his efforts in fighting for gay rights left a lasting impact on the people of this planet and his hope still lives on to this day. Simply put Harvey Milk’s ideology of fighting on and instilling hope in the fight for gay rights when no one else would, immortalized him – “Without hope, life's not worth living” (Milk, 2008)

It is now June 7th 1977, the sun has set on the Castro district of San Francisco, and the crowd that has gathered in the street outside Harvey Milk’s camera shop is becoming more and more, impatient and angry. We know watching that the reason that everyone is angry is due to the reports about voters in Dade County, Florida, having voted to overturn a local gay-rights ordinance, giving momentum to a backlash whose most visible public face belongs to Anita Bryant. We know we have reached the climax of the movie. So much is happening all at once in the life of Harvey Milk that you wonder how he has not yet lost his head. His impish upbeat attitude and overly positive optimism in the face of multiplying frustrations makes you look up in awe at the wonderment that is Harvey Milk.

The gay residents of the Castro are angry and looking to Harvey for leadership. Though not yet elected to office and having lost 3 years consecutively, Harvey rises to the occasion and leads the angry crowd to city hall where he picks up a bullhorn and address the crowd in a way only Harvey Milk can – turning an angry mob on the verge of a violent riot to a enthusiastic mass willing to fight for their rights the proper way. In the space of a few minutes Harvey goes from a whisper to a shout, from an intimate message of consolation and support to a defiant public speech. Milk shows us that it is these moments, these distinct modes of address, are connected, and that the link between them is what defines Harvey Milk’s aspirations and ideals.

According to Dr. Harry M. Benshoff, an associate professor of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of North Texas, queer theorist focus on how sexuality was and is a product of culture, not some sort of biological given. In Milk it is clearly stressed that Harvey too did not believe that homosexuality was a genetic disease. In the scene of the 1977 June 7th march, just before he leaves the store to lead the mob to city hall, Harvey answers the telephone only to be greeted by a scared and confused teenager whose parents believe him to be ill because he is gay. Harvey’s disregard of homosexuality as a genetic disorder is abundantly clear in this scene when he reassures the teenage boy that he isn’t ill and that being gay is perfectly normal.

Dr. Benshoff goes on to day that following the work of Alfred Kinsey and Sigmund Freud, queer theorists argue that human sexuality—or indeed, race, gender, class, etc.—are not either/or propositions, but are rather fluid and dynamic socially-defined positions. To suggest that...

References: 1. Black, D.L. (2008) Interview with Dustin Lance Black, writer, ‘Milk’, viewed May 2009,
2. Doty, A. (1998) The Oxford Guide To Film Studies: Queer Theory, Oxford University Press Inc, New York
3. Dr. Benshoff, H.M. (2006) Notes on Gay History/Queer Theory/Queer Film, viewed May 2009, <>
4. Milk, 2008. Film. Directed by Gus Van SANT. USA: Focus Features
5. Sant, G.V. (2008) Interview: Gus Van Sant on “Milk”, viewed May 2009, <>
6. TheFreeOnlineDictionary.Com By Farlex (2000) The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston
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