It was 40 years ago today that the legendary Judy Garland died.
Now that’s a moving anniversary indeed, but I’m sure you’re wondering what that’s got to do with a film about America’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk?
Well, the struggle for gay rights is the connection. Three years before Harvey Milk moved to San Francisco and began campaigning for rights for the gay community, a landmark event took place in New York, triggered, some say, by the death on 22nd June of Judy Garland.
You see, back in the 1960s in New York the gay community existed underground, frequenting clubs and bars that were regularly raided by the police, avoiding arrest by hiding or slipping away.
Five days after Garland’s death, however, things changed. On 27th June, the popular Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was raided, and the patrons (possibly spurred on by seeing so many other gay fans at Judy Garland’s funeral earlier that day) decided to fight back. For several nights the riots between the gay community and the police continued, marking a significant milestone in gay history.
It was Harvey Milk who continued this battle for rights in the 1970s, and Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn, tells his story. Penn, won the Best Actor Oscar this year for his performance, and rightly so.
Milk bagged two Academy Awards in total, but did you know that it received a whopping eight Academy Award nominations? No, probably not because the overrated Slumdog Millionaire took the lead (as dogs do) in everyone’s award season write-ups, despite Milk’s significance in relation to the 2008 California voter referendum on gay marriage, Proposition 8.
Milk is an outstanding movie, capturing an era, an amazing man, and a significant landmark in the history of gay rights. Harvey Milk’s story is told with great depth, emotion and humanity, and I think it should have won a pail of awards. Never before have I cried so much at a film. And it wasn’t just tears. My bottom lip developed a disturbing quivering life of its own – something that has never ever happened to me before.
What’s especially moving is that while rights for gay people have greatly improved since the 1970s, equality hasn’t yet been achieved. Hopefully one day this will change, and it’s important to hold on to such dreams, because as Judy Garland famously pointed out – “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
Milk is available to see on demand on both Sky Box Office and Filmflex from today and if you’ve not seen it yet, you must.