tina fetner: got milk?

I just finished watching “Milk,” the biographical film about San Francisco politician and activist Harvey Milk. Having been a Bay Area person for eight years, I knew the story fairly well, but I still enormously enjoyed the film and Sean Penn’s acting. The movie reminded me of Tina Fetner’s book, which I reviewed last year, because Tina covers in great detail the push and pull of gay rights activists and the emerging Christianist movement. The movie documents how Milk’s political work fit into that whole late 70s dynamic. Another neat aspect of the film was showing how the gay rights movement bled into San Francisco and California electoral politics, via Milk’s campaign organization. That’s a big theme that my co-author and I push – the “party in the street,” which is what we call the social domain where street politics intersects with party politics. I’m curious as to what Tina might have to add about this film?


Written by fabiorojas

March 19, 2009 at 4:48 am

3 Responses

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  1. Gosh, I’m flattered! I loved this film, and they threw in some historical details just for the activists (and students of their activism like me). For example, when Harvey Milk was elected, he was running against another gay man, Rick Stokes, who claimed that it was he who was the established gay activist and Milk was just a newcomer. This is true; Stokes had been a leader in the gay movement for some time. Their disagreements were not only about carpetbagging, however, but rather, I would argue, about activist styles. Harvey Milk was a hippie, no matter how he cleaned himself up, making connections with regular people–rank and file labour, minority groups, seniors. Stokes’s group was more buttoned up, and narrowly focused on particular grievances in the gay community. Sometimes this was messy, and I was trying to recall for my class the details of Milk’s campaigns ties to less-than-scrupulous groups like the People’s Temple and the Moonies. I remember reading some correspondence in the archives that was something along the lines of Stokes’s group complaining about Milk’s use of this pool of free labor and the way it might sully the movement, but since it wasn’t relevant to my search of political claims, I didn’t file it in my records. Maybe the next time I’m in San Francisco, I’ll drop by the archive again.

    Anyway, I thought the film captured well the historical moment, the life that was in the movement at the time, as well as the real threat that the anti-gay movement posed. For Milk, as for the movement in general, cultural activism (like coming out or parades), political activism (like protests and marches), and electoral politics was all part of the same soup of lesbian and gay life. I am with you, Fabio, in arguing that the activism is not separate from the rest. Of course, Elizabeth Armstrong makes the same argument in her book, Forging Gay Identities.

    I’m out of town at the moment, but maybe I’ll post more later. I think you may have roused me from my blogging hiatus. I wrote an op-ed about Prop 8, using a historical perspective, but since none of the papers would print it, maybe it’s time to throw it onto the blog. Thanks much for the shout out, Fabio.



    March 19, 2009 at 10:06 pm

  2. […] tina fetner: got milk? « […]


  3. […] Commentary on the movie about Harvey Milk […]


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