Times of Harvey Milk, The (1984): Superb Docu of Gay Activist

Bob Epstein and Friedman’s Oscar-winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk helped prepare the background for feature movies about AIDS.

The Times of Harvey Milk chronicles the life, rise to political power and murder of Harvey Milk, one of the country’s first openly gay elected officials. Milk’s story parallels the story of the modern gay rights movement, specifically the heady times of the 1970s in probably the most organized gay community in the world, San Francisco’s Castro district. As a mobilizing symbol, the gay community couldn’t ask for a more potent representative than Milk.

With elements of both tragedy and nostalgia for a unique period in gay and lesbian history, Milk’s story is chronologically told. Unsuccessful in his first attempt at a City Supervisor seat, Milk eventually won after the city’s redistricting. His campaign and triumphant victory are related by a former campaign aide, who tells of his kindness, generosity, and insistence on a diverse campaign staff. The footage of his victory shows Milk and his supporters react with both disbelief and unmitigated joy.

The tragedy that follows is foreshadowed as we learn of Dan White, the fellow San Francisco Supervisor who murdered Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. Despite White’s confession and overwhelming evidence of intent, he is given a sentence of only seven years.

San Francisco’s gay community is catapulted into a state of grief and rage that produces a series of riots at City Hall. The scene of the candlelight march held for Milk after his murder is especially poignant.

The Times of Harvey Milk is a piece of history and a tribute to an endearing figure in the gay rights movement.

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