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Milk Case Study

Rob Miller | Tuesday November 08, 2011

Categories: A Level, EDUQAS A Level, EDUQAS AS, FM2, Analysis, Film Analysis, Films & Case Studies, American, Milk, Genres & Case Studies, Biography, Drama, History, Social Realism

Synopsis and Character Profiles


Milk is a film based on a true story (narrative fact) about openly gay civil rights activist, Harvey Milk, who eventually - after many struggles and defeats - finally serves in public office as a San Francisco Supervisor in the Mayor’s Office. The film ends with his assassination in 1978 by political nemesis, Social Conservative Dan White.

Played by Sean Penn, the film opens with 40 year old Milk in 1978 narrating and recording a monologue “only to be played in the event of my death?.

He is openly gay (which was a difficult decision in the 1970s, where intolerance and cultural stereotyping was commonplace) and has moved from New York to San Francisco, with his much younger lover Scott Smith played by James Franco. Scott Smith was later to be Harvey Milk’s San Francisco Campaign Manager, in his attempt to run for public office; New York (a Metro station) is only briefly referenced (in the first 10 minutes of the film) as the place where they meet.


In San Francisco, California, the main location of the film, Milk decides to open a camera shop called Castro Cameras, in the fashionable and iconic openly gay area of San Francisco. (Castro Street in ‘The Castro’ has connotations of radical politics in relation to Communist Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.) Milk is unsure of the direction he is going in, but soon realises his camera shop is becoming a ‘salon’ for gay rights activists’ (the initial move from New York to San Francisco was in hope of a broader acceptance for their relationship).  Milk and his fellow activists encounter significant opposition, however in the once Irish Catholic stronghold of The Castro, he uses his background as a businessman to attempt to run for public office - in the hope he will change people’s perceptions.

Smith eventually leaves Milk, after growing frustrated at his devotion to politics (despite being his Campaign Manager). Milk finds love again with Jack...

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