Actor Emile Hirsch responded to the changing nature of gay rights issues and their connection to the story of politician Harvey Milk in a Q-and-A session following the prescreening of his movie “Milk” at the AMC Loews Georgetown on Thursday.

“It is a movie about gay rights, a movie about civil rights and simply, equality,” Hirsch said. “I really responded to the universality of people just being connected because they are human beings.”

Directed by Gus Van Sant, “Milk” chronicles the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in 1977. Milk, portrayed by Sean Penn, not only fights for gay rights, but also advocates against prejudice and hate violence in San Francisco. The movie culminates in his assassination, which propels, a nationwide gay rights movement in the late 70s.

Hirsch, who portrays Cleve Jones, Harvey Milk’s protégé, said he was inspired by Milk’s story. “It wasn’t about excluding people or dividing people; it was about being embraced,” he said. “It struck me as a quintessentially American story.”

The actual Cleve Jones was also present for the Q-and-A session. Taking his political activism beyond his work with “Milk,” Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and developed the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

When asked about the growing complacency that surrounds gay rights issues, Jones answered that disconnect from the issues, rather than complacency, is the problem. “I am concerned because I think so much rests on your shoulders now,” he said. “So many of the things that you are taking for granted could be taken away in the blink of an eye.”

Jones also expressed frustration at the lessened focus on the AIDS epidemic in the United States. “There seems to be a new silence descending on the issues,” he said. “I have not heard it addressed by any of the candidates. I am quite frightened.”

Audience members further drew connections between the film, the current presidential race and the Proposition 8 debate in California. Proposition 8 is a public initiative on the 2008 California general election ballot aimed at eliminating same-sex marriages.

ilk and Jones were both involved in defeating Proposition 6, a law to remove homosexual teachers and those that supported them from schools in California.

“During the Prop 6 campaign, history was against us. There was much more gut-level fear,” Jones said. “This year, I believe history is on our side. I have been really heartened to see how much the youth has embraced this campaign in California.”

Unlike Proposition 6, however, Proposition 8 will not be a law.

Jones said that the Nov. 4 election will be one of the most important events in our lives. He drew strong parallels between Milk’s personal message of hope and Obama’s own statements. “His speech really reminds me of Harvey,” Jones said. “And to see the potential for a black man to bring the type of healing that this country desperately needs makes me very hopeful.”

Finally, Jones ended with a call for action. “I want you all to be really impatient,” he said. “I want you to demand the change this country needs.”

The screening of “Milk” was sponsored by the College Democrats and GU Pride. The movie is set to open on a limited scale on Nov. 26.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.