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

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


No on 8 protesters lined Castro Street, shouting at the top of their lungs for marriage equality as Hollywood gathered for the premiere of Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic. Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Diego Luna, and Sean Penn were all on hand. Penn, notoriously press-shy, got out of his car and went over to shake hands and give a thumbs-up to the protesters. It was a fitting celebration of a great man's legacy.

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.

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 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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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