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Protests and people greet 'Milk' premiere

October 29, 2008 | 11:51 am


Harvey Milk would have been proud.

More than 1,400 people flocked to the San Francisco world premiere of "Milk" Tuesday night, the movie that chronicles the life and times of the gay activist politician who was slain 30 years ago along with the city's mayor, George Moscone. Milk might also have had a case of deja vu seeing throngs of people lining the sidewalk across the street from the Castro Theatre holding "No on 8" protest signs demonstrating against the ballot measure that would eliminate the rights of same sex couples to marry. The crowd chanted, "Unfair and wrong, no on eight," and "Love is great, no on eight."

When Milk, a former New Yorker, served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in America in 1977, he fought a similar battle against the anti-gay Proposition 6, backed by singer Anita Bryant and California State Sen. John Briggs. "Thirty years later, it's the same fight," said James Schamus, chief executive of "Milk's" financier and distributor, Focus Features.

Schamus took the stage at the historic Castro Theatre, alongside the film's director, Gus Van Sant, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Van Sant thanked the crew and cast members, many of whom were in attendance, including Sean Penn (who plays Milk), Emile Hirsh and Josh Brolin. Newsom described San Francisco as a place that "not just tolerates diversity, but celebrates diversity ... a city where you can live your life out loud." Shot entirely in San Francisco, the approximately $20-million "Milk" included 4,000 local extras — which may be a far cry from the reputed 300,000 extras used in "Gandhi," but at least they were real people and not digitally created as sometimes happens nowadays.

The post-premiere party was held at City Hall, where Milk and Mascone were gunned down in 1978 by former City Supervisor Dan White (played by Brolin). As attendees sipped martinis and nibbled on sushi and cold shrimp with dance music on loudspeakers, several people couldn't help remarking how it was a little eerie to be celebrating in the same venue where the popular politicians were murdered.

"Milk" opens in select theaters on Nov. 26, and then expands nationally in December.

— Claudia Eller

Photo: Noah Berger/AP