MOVIES

The Oscar-Winning Movie Sean Penn Doesn’t Think He’d Get Away With Today

Just as a quick refresher, Harvey Milk is an important figure in LGBTQ+ history — and, yes, he was played by an actor who identifies as straight. In 2008, Sean Penn took on the role of Harvey Milk in a biopic simply titled “Milk,” which tells the story of Milk’s political rise and subsequent assassination. In the 1970s, Penn introduces us to Milk, a man grappling with his sexual identity who meets his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) in New York before the two move to San Francisco together, hoping to find a more inclusive and welcoming space out west. 

Ultimately, Milk becomes an activist fighting for gay rights and runs for office, but pays a personal price; Scott leaves, and Milk embarks upon a troubled and ultimately doomed relationship with a young man named Jack Lira (Diego Luna). From there, the film faithfully follows Milk’s political ascendancy as he becomes the first openly gay public official in the state of California thanks to his seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. As with Milk’s real story, the film ends in tragedy when Milk, in the aftermath of defeating an openly homophobic effort called Proposition 6 (which intended to ban queer people from working in public schools), is gunned down by his erstwhile friend Dan White (Josh Brolin).

Penn does a phenomenal job in the film — again, he did win an Academy Award for his work — but it’s pretty easy to poke holes in his argument that he couldn’t play Milk again today — because certainly could. Here’s why.

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