Harvey is coming to the big screen, and I'm not talking about a very big, very invisible rabbit.
I'm talking about Harvey Milk. Sean Penn is set to play the gay icon, while Matt Damon will probably play his murderer, Dan White. I'm surprised a feature film about Milk took so long to make, because his life and death were packed with cinematic qualities--triumph, tragedy, and a disco soundtrack.
The latter is because Milk came to prominence in the 1970s. The self-proclaimed "Mayor of Castro Street" was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1977, making him the first openly gay elected official of any large American city.
That's the triumphant part of the story.
While in office, he sponsored a pooper-scooper ordinance. That's the story's comic relief.
Milk clashed with conservative Supervisor Dan White, a former cop and fire fighter. Unhappy with city politics and financially hurting, White resigned the supervisor position. His supporters convinced him to withdraw his resignation and seek re-appointment from Mayor George Moscone. Milk and others lobbied Moscone not to re-appoint White.
There. If you spend twenty minutes of the movie in line for Junior Mints you'll still know what's going on.
On Nov. 27, 1978, White placed his loaded policeman's revolver and ten extra rounds of ammunition into his coat pocket. He avoided City Hall's metal detectors by entering through a basement window. White went straight to the mayor and asked again for his position back. Moscone declined, they argued, and White shot him four times.
Whoever plays Mayor Moscone gets to pack a lot of emotion in limited screen minutes. A scene-stealer's dream.
White reloaded his gun and headed for Milk's office, where he shot him six times. He turned himself in to detectives who were his former co-workers.
Milk had recorded audiotapes to be played in the event of his assassination. At a candlelight memorial vigil for him, thousands heard him say, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."
If there's a dry eye in the movie theater at that moment, I'll eat a director's chair.
Now comes the part that's both tragedy and comedy. During White's trial, his lawyers argued for diminished capacity due to depression. They claimed White was mentally not up to the task of premeditated first-degree murder. One of the arguments they used to prove his depression was that in the months before the killings, White, normally a health food fan, had been downing junk food, including Twinkies. Thus was the "Twinkie defense" born.
When this movie comes out, there might be a suitable "Rocky Horror"-like moment during the trial when White's looking at the jury with puppy-dog eyes, and the audience yells with gusto, "Twinkie defense!"
White's jury accepted his lawyers' claims, and he was found guilty of just voluntary manslaughter, with a sentence of seven years.
A lot of gay people were infuriated by the trial results—I can't imagine why—and some 3,000 of them marched to City Hall. There violence erupted in what's known as the White Night Riots.
Before the film credits roll, and we read that no gays were harmed in the filming of this movie, I bet words on the screen will note that general disgust for the case's outcome led to the end of California's diminished capacity law.
Also, Dan White served five years, was paroled, and killed himself less than two years later. And many in the gay community today see Harvey Milk as a martyr.
Somehow, some way, I hope the filmmakers show White during his campaign for supervisor saying "crime is No. 1 with me." He wasn't lying—turned out he was very fond of it.