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 All About Milk

 All About Milk


Let's use up all the journalistic cliches at once: For gays and lesbians it was a relatively slow news week, but they say, no news is good news. In the national mainstream press, Milk, the biopic of the San Francisco gay rights hero Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, continues its run of heavy coverage and positive reviews.

Let's use up all the journalistic cliches at once: For gays and lesbians it was a relatively slow news week, but they say, no news is good news.

In the national mainstream press, Milk, the biopic of the San Francisco gay rights hero Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, continued its run of heavy coverage and positive reviews.

The hand-wringing what-ifs wondering if Milk could have helped defeat California's anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 had it been released earlier have been swept aside for more straightforward reviews of the movie itself -- along with the features that accompany any popular film. Publications as diverse as People,Newsweek,Esquire, and The New Yorker reviewed Milk (what, you mean there were other movies out this week?), a signal, perhaps, that the flick is likely to be an Oscar favorite.

In addition to Owen Glieberman's A-minus review, Entertainment Weekly ran another piece about screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's struggle to get Milk's story right -- a feat made more difficult by the fact that he couldn't use the most exhaustive bit of research, the biography The Mayor of Castro Street, because the rights were sold to a different set of moviemakers, and had to rely on good, old-fashioned reporting to get his own version of the tale. Said Black: "'We spent hours going through boxes. I got to know the real Harvey, a man who was deeply flawed, a failure in his business life, a failure in his love life. It was all the stuff you never learn. I thought, Wow, now here's a story.''

In other entertainment news, lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel is retiring her 20-year-old strip, "Dykes to Watch Out For," an event that coincides with the release of a compilation book, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.New YorkMagazine paid homage to her on its website with a short interview. Said Bechdel of her decision to end the column: "The longer I wrote about these people, the fewer possibilities were open to everyone based on the choices they made. Everyone's lives started to narrow."

TheNew York Times' Dwight Garner wrote a review of Bechdel's book collection, heaping high praise on it. He noted that the strip is highly sexualized -- "There are a lot of naked cartoon women here -- gloriously naked cartoon women"; "literate" ("In the stacks of a library, one character confesses: 'I've always fantasized about library congress. Let's do it in the HQ 70s.'"); and shows that lesbians are actually "on the cutting edge," about environmentalism, vegetarianism, and everything else ("Ms. Bechdel's very first strip mentions a "seaweed-avocado pate.) Reported Garner: "Ms. Bechdel began her strips all those years ago, she writes here, partly to provide 'an antidote' to the culture's image of gay women as "warped, sick, humorless and undesirable." Boy, has she succeeded. Her crazy lesbians seem saner than the rest of us, and beyond beautiful."

In political news: A brief whisper of gossip surrounded President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet picks, real and potential. Media and politics gossip blog posted items on both names in the news -- Mary Beth Maxwell and Janet Napolitano. It gushed that our first "black president might appoint our first openly gay cabinet member!" referring to Maxwell, a union activist and community organizer, who is being mentioned as a potential secretary of Labor.

In another post, Gawker writer Alex Pareene smacked down "professional gaffe machine and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell." Rendell, not realizing a microphone nearby was still turned on, gave a backhanded thumbs-up to the choice of Arizona governor Napolitano -- who has been rumored to be a lesbian -- as the Homeland Security chief pick. "Janet's perfect for the job, because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it."

While Arkansas just passed a law barring unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children (a move aimed squarely at gay couples), a new survey, "The Pulse of Equality," commissioned by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, showed that "a majority of Americans favors a broad range of policies and protections for gays, as well as supporting them as adoptive parents," according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The Florida papers picked up on this particular survey because the state had just passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

And Obama isn't jumping into the gays-in-the-military fray just yet. U.S. News and World Report noted that advocates of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy "may have to be patient" while Obama focuses on "consensus-building" and the economy, among other pressing issues. No Bill Clinton gays-in-the-military sequel here, folks.

Meanwhile, there were still a few Prop. 8 postmortems to be had. In TheNew York Times columnist Charles M. Blow offered a twist on the old argument that the black vote was responsible for its passage. According to his stats, black women were more likely to vote for Prop. 8 than black men. He lists the numerous reasons: Women tend to be bigger churchgoers than their men, which makes them more socially conservative. "Let's just call them Afropublicrats," Blow wrote. Black women aren't big fans of the interracial marriage argument -- because they aren't in favor of interracial marriage, which means gay marriage is looked upon even less kindly. They tend to be either the least likely to be married and the most likely to be divorced, so, added Blow: "Women who can't find a man to marry might not be thrilled about the idea of men marrying each other."

And because being gay is such a no-no in black culture, he says, so many black men stay in the closet, on the down low, unwittingly helping spread HIV and making black women "the fastest-growing group of people with HIV." Blow argued that the way to the ladies' hearts is to appeal to their health and safety sensibilities. "The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly. And, the more open blacks are to homosexuality overall, the more open they are likely to be to gay marriage. This way, everyone wins."

The New Yorker also weighed in on Prop. 8 with Hendrick Hertzberg's Talk of the Town editorial, "Eight Is Enough." Hertzberg pointed to the usual reasons given for the passage of the anti-gay-marriage law, citing Mormons and money: "The normal political pattern is for money to get raised in California and spent elsewhere. This time, Salt Lake City played the role of Hollywood, rural Utah was the new Silicon Valley, and California was cast as flyover country. Of the forty million dollars spent on behalf of Prop. 8, some twenty million came from members or organs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

And he singled out the terrible ad campaign run by No on 8: "Their television ads were timid and ineffective, focussing on worthy abstractions like equality and fairness, while the other side's were powerfully emotional." Still, he said, while we missed the boat this time, "the time is coming."

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Tricia Romano