Props to Time for not only thoughtfully reviewing Milk (which I haven't seen yet, but plan to Sunday), stating that "Harvey Milk is the gay Joan of Arc," (which I haven't seen yet) but for owning its own homophobic past:
And when a film did take a compassionate approach to homosexuality, the mainstream press could pounce on it with cavalier ignorance and captious contempt. A review of the British drama Victim, about a barrister fighting the law that made homosexuality a criminal offense, took offense at the movie's "implicit approval of homosexuality as a practice. ... Nowhere does the film suggest that homosexuality is a serious (but often curable) neurosis that attacks the biological basis of life itself. 'I can't help the way I am,' says one of the sodomites in this movie. 'Nature played me a dirty trick.' And the scriptwriters, whose psychiatric information is clearly coeval with the statute they dispute, accept this sick-silly self-delusion as a medical fact." The review, headlined, "A Plea for Perversion?", appeared in the Feb. 23, 1962, issue of TIME magazine.
The medical nonsense spouted here — which was also the stated position of the American Psychiatric Association — underlined a conformist culture's fear of the Other. They're different. They dress and talk funny. They're a threat to our spouses and our kids. The arguments against homosexuals, like those against blacks, meant to turn irrational suspicions into punitive legislation. To counter the know-nothing majority, members of the afflicted minority needed a righteous, urgent spokesman. Blacks had MLK — Martin Luther King, Jr. Gays had MiLK — Harvey Milk.
And from the review:
Perhaps the least homosexual actor around, Penn here reins in his Method bluster to locate the sweetness and vulnerability beneath Milk's assured persona. He becomes this character — surely far from his experience — with no italicizing, no condescension, no sweat. This isn't an impersonation, it's an inhabiting.
In any early scene, Harvey shares a long, loving kiss with his future lover, Scott Smith (James Franco in a finely tuned turn). The kiss is director Gus Van Sant's declaration that, yes, this will be a gay movie. But there's no shock value, except in the tenderness of the passion — when was the last time you saw a great movie kiss?