Stars, No on 8 Supporters Turn Out for S.F. Milk Premiere 

By Corey Scholibo

Originally published on Advocate.com October 28 2008 11:00 PM ET

As I approached
the Castro Theatre Tuesday night in San Francisco for the
world premiere of Gus Van Sant’s long-awaited biopic
Milk, hundreds of No on 8 protesters lined
Castro Street behind the red carpet, shouting at the top of
their lungs. At the same time, a young girl, who was
riding her bike with her father, asked him,
“What is going on over there?”
“It’s a movie premiere,” he said,
“for a very great man named Harvey Milk.” And
then the two rode off down Market Street.

The juxtaposition
seemed to sum up the legacy of Harvey Milk in San
Francisco, a city that will never be the same because of
him. Castro Street was closed for the evening, and the
premiere’s red carpet was rolled out in
the middle of the street. Crowds gathered against
every barricade as Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco,
Diego Luna, and Sean Penn (who plays the title
role) all arrived. Penn, notoriously press-shy,
got out of his car and went over to shake hands and
give a thumbs-up to the protesters. Surprisingly, there were
no demonstrators in support of Proposition 8, the
ballot measure that would rescind marriage equality in
California.

The premiere was
a screening to benefit the Point Foundation. James
Shamus, the CEO of Milk's distributor, Focus
Features, took the stage to start the introductions,
announcing that over $200,000 had been raised that
evening. He first introduced a man who needs no
introduction in San Francisco -- the city’s
mayor, Gavin Newsom.

Newsom, like many
of the night’s guests, was wearing Levi’s
jeans, as Levi’s was the night's key sponsor.
Newsom, in turn, introduced Van Sant, calling him
“one of the greatest directors of our time.”
Van Sant, who spoke in a low, muffled voice that
could barely be heard around the auditorium,
joked that he hoped the film was any good.

 Milk PREMIERE Lane Brolin X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

The film played
amazingly well, and throughout the theatre, audience
members had audible reactions to every historical
moment it brings to life. As Dan White, the killer of
Milk and Mayor George Moscone, opens a window at City
Hall to sneak in that fateful day, people were gasping
as if to say, “That’s it. That’s the
window he went through.” There were few dry
eyes, and attendees expressed almost universal love for the
film.

The premiere
after-party was held at City Hall, the setting for not only
that scene but many more in the film. People were shuttled
on cross-country tour buses to the venue.

Levi's was
well-represented at the party as models handed out denim
bracelets imprinted with 'Milk," and at the end of the
night guests received gift bags with "Milk" on
one side and a denim pocket on the other. In one of
the venue's wings, vintage pictures of the people and
places depicted in the film were on display alongside
photos from the film. One of the film’s most
applauded moments, during the final credit
sequence, tells the fate of the activists
involved, fading to pictures of them in real life from that
era.

In another wing
1970s music played. With no VIP area, the film’s
stars were positioned at tables near the entrance
where Hollywood and San Francisco society intermingled
-- that is, except for Sean Penn, who was noticeably
absent. Josh Brolin (who plays Dan White) and wife
Diane Lane held court at the center, shunning press
and looking so absolutely in love. James Franco, who
plays Milk's lover, Scott Smith, was there with
his entire family, including his younger brother, who said
he will soon be staring in a horror film. Casey
Affleck was also in attendance and hovered around
Brolin’s table. The film’s writer, Dustin
Lance Black, had tons of friends in town; he had
elicited almost as much applause as Sean Penn when Van
Sant introduced the cast and crew before the
screening.

 milk PREMIERE James Franco X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Milk producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks were there
with their partners. Cohen, who was resplendent
in a '70s-inspired outfit, talked about the
film’s message of hope, relating it to his
hope that his marriage will remain legal.

A portion of the
film is devoted to Milk’s instrumental work in
defeating the Briggs Initiative -- also known as
Proposition 6 -- in 1978, which would have barred
gay people from teaching in California public schools.
Milk's costume designer Danny Glicker had
made up special buttons for the premiere that said "No on
8" in the font and color of the "No on 6" buttons from the
'70s, and the crowd wore them with pride.

With the election
looming, perhaps the most memorable scene from the
screening came when Milk and his operatives are in their
headquarters, certain they were loosing, only to
receive a call that the polls were way off and
the initiative was going to go down 2-to-1.

“It was
very important for us that this film was screened here in
San Francisco before the election,” James
Shamus said. “Not to tie into the election but
to make a stand and say 30 years ago, humanity won. And here
it is 30 years later, and this is what art should do, it
should tell you, whenever you think you’ve won,
it reminds you, you’ve got to keep
fighting.”

As the film ended
with Milk’s famous words “You gotta give
‘em hope,” everyone was allowed for a
moment to hope that Prop. 8 would meet Prop. 6's fate
on Tuesday.