The Times of Harvey Milk

What I focused on throughout watching the film The Times of Harvey Milk was the portrayal of both the protagonist and antagonist. I noticed two things that I would like to remember and incorporate in our documentary. First off, I thought that one of the strengths of The Times of Harvey Milk was that it portrayed both characters very fairly, which, as we discussed in class, was particularly important in the case of Dan White. Had I not already known the final outcome of the film and that Dan White was our villain, through the film’s portrayal of his character I might have anticipated that the climax of the film would be Dan White’s traditional values clashing with Harvey Milk’s support for gay rights. During the introduction to Dan White, I thought one of the strongest elements of the scene was how the visuals spoke for themselves, and hinted that perhaps our villain didn’t quite fit in in San Francisco, which for me was evident as he attempted to take a photo with a shopkeeper who squirmed away from him and seemed thoroughly uncomfortable. Because of the way the film began, this scene was my first glimpse into the idea that Dan White’s vision of politics didn’t really work in San Francisco, and I began to think that maybe despite the fact that our narrator described him fairly positively, that still didn’t mean that he was in the right place to enact his vision of politics.

 

When thinking about The Times of Harvey Milk in relation to our own film, I think about the moment we are introduced to Dan White, where he is described as a wholesome, “all-American” type politician. Here, and throughout the film, I noticed a parallelism between how both Dan White and Harvey Milk were portrayed. The narration and descriptions of both our characters never seem to blatantly further our thoughts of them as the “hero” or the “villain”, rather we are introduced to both characters through how they relate to others. Based on watching the film, the primary characteristic that we learn about Harvey was how inclusive he was, how although gay rights issues were personally close to him, he thought about the inclusion of all people, especially minorities. First and foremost, the film portrays him as a friend, even as a silly joker, not as the intense activist we might have pictured before watching the film. Dan White, on the other hand, is portrayed as out of touch with San Francisco society, but perhaps not out of touch with all of American society at that time, where gay rights issues were not nearly as prolific in popular news as they are today. Still, the initial portrayal of him as out of touch does not necessarily scream “villain” at the beginning of the piece. Even when we learn about his personal struggles after he resigns his office, he still seems like a character with personality traits we can understand, not as a murderous villain who will ultimately assassinate two people. I’d like to remember this treatment of these two characters, and use it as an inspiration for the portrayal of the victim and hero in our documentary.

 

 

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