In our “Get INTO” series, we rummage through Netflix each week to find the very best movies that LGBTQ cinema has to offer. However you identify, these tales of love, sex and the everyday experience of queer life all deserve a special place in your Netflix queue. Also, some of these films are super hot, so whether you’re alone or with a special ‘friend’, rev up everyone’s favorite streaming service and get ready to chill with some of the best queer movies on Netflix.
What is Milk? Based largely on The Times of Harvey Milk, an Oscar-winning documentary from 1984, Milk explores the tragic real-life story of Harvey Milk. The San Francisco-based politician fought to make things better for the LGBTQ community when he became the first openly gay person elected to public office in California. Gus Van Sant’s widely acclaimed movie focuses on the last eight years of his life, celebrating both his personal love affairs and the activist efforts that would eventually lead to his assassination.
Who’s in it? An exceptional cast gives 10s across the board here, including Josh Brolin, who was nominated by the Academy for his role as opponent Dan White. The likes of Diego Luna, James Franco, and Emile Hirsch also impress, but this is very much Sean Penn’s movie, something which the Oscars recognized when they gave him his second Best Actor win for taking on the role of Harvey.
What does Rotten Tomatoes say? “Anchored by Sean Penn’s powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America’s first openly gay man elected to public office.”
What do we say? For what might be his most successful film, director Gus Van Sant erred on the side of caution, channeling mainstream fare like Good Will Hunting rather than his more experimental offerings like Gerry or Elephant. It’s strangely fitting that he would play it safe with the biopic of a revolutionary like Harvey, though, simply because there’s so much ground to cover here. Not only does Milk explore the rise of queer activism in 1970s San Francisco, but it also tells a much broader story that touches on the heart of everything that’s still wrong with America, all these years later.
But isn’t the cast problematic? Back when Milk first came out, there were some who objected to Penn’s casting, because he openly supported a Cuban government that has a long history of anti-gay sentiment. Since then, Emile Hirsch has also been charged with aggravated assault and James Franco has been the subject of numerous sexual misconduct allegations, too.
Milk is an extraordinary achievement that brings to light the ongoing struggle that queer people faced back when the mainstream wanted them to bow out quietly. Because of this, it’s a vital chapter of queer movie history that deserves to be seen, but it’s also vital that you bear these factors in mind when choosing to watch it.
So why should I see Milk? Penn drew focus at the time of Milk’s release thanks to his towering performance, but it’s easy to forget now that Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar for his screenplay, too, and rightly so. With the help of archive footage, Black’s script finds the nuance in Harvey’s story, humanizing him in ways that make his message far more powerful than any form of hero worship ever could. Kind, funny and yet as flawed as any of us, Milk’s crusade serves as a timely reminder of what ordinary men and women can do to change this world for the better. At a time when Trump threatens to undo the hard work of Harvey and people like him, it’s more important than ever that we draw inspiration from his story.
Milk is now available to watch on Netflix.