By Su (23 Feb 2009)
Milk opens with archival footage of police raiding gay bars and arresting patrons during the 1950s and 1960s, followed by Dianne Feinstein's November 27, 1978 announcement to the press that Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone have been assassinated. Milk is seen recording his will throughout the film, nine days (November 18, 1978) before the assassinations. The film then flashes back to New York City in 1970, the eve of Milk's 40th birthday and his first meeting with his much younger lover, Scott Smith.
Unsatisfied with his life and in need of a change, Milk and his Smith decide to move to San Francisco in the hope of finding larger acceptance of their relationship. They open Castro Camera in the heart of Eureka Valley, a working class neighborhood in the process of evolving into a predominantly gay neighborhood known as The Castro. Frustrated by the bigotry and oppression they encounter in the once Irish-Catholic neighborhood, Milk utilizes his background as a businessman to become a gay activist, eventually becoming a mentor for Cleve Jones. Early on, Smith serves as Milk's campaign manager, but his frustration grows with Milk's obsessive devotion to politics, and he leaves him. Milk later meets Jack Lira, a sweet-natured but unbalanced young man. As with Smith, however, Lira cannot tolerate Milk's devotion to political activism, and eventually hangs himself.
After two unsuccessful political campaigns in 1973 and 1975 to become a city supervisor and a third in 1976 for the California State Assembly, Milk finally wins a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 for District 5. His victory makes him the first openly gay man to be voted into major public office in the United States. Milk subsequently meets fellow Supervisor Dan White, a Vietnam veteran and former police officer and firefighter. White, who is politically and socially conservative, has a difficult relationship with Milk. He has a growing resentment for Milk, largely due to the attention paid to Milk by the press and his colleagues.
Milk and White forge a complex working relationship. Milk is invited to, and attends, the christening of White's first child, and White asks for Milk's assistance in preventing a psychiatric hospital from opening in White's district, possibly in exchange for White's support of Milk's citywide gay rights ordinance. When Milk fails to support White, White feels betrayed, and ultimately becomes the sole vote against the gay rights ordinance. Milk also launches an effort to defeat Proposition 6, an initiative on the California state ballot in November 1978. Sponsored by John Briggs, a conservative state legislator from Orange County, Proposition 6 seeks to ban gays and lesbians (in addition to anyone who supports them) from working in California's public schools. It is also part of a nationwide conservative movement that starts with the successful campaign headed by Anita Bryant and her organization Save Our Children in Dade County, Florida to repeal a local gay rights ordinance. On November 7, 1978, after working tirelessly against Proposition 6, Milk and his supporters rejoice in the wake of its defeat. The increasingly unstable White is in favor of a supervisor pay raise, but does not get much support, and shortly after supporting the Proposition, resigns from the Board. He later changes his mind and asks the city to rescind his decision. Mayor George Moscone denies his request, after having been lobbied by Milk to do so.
On the morning of November 27, 1978, White enters San Francisco City Hall through a basement window in order to conceal a gun from metal detectors. He requests another meeting with Moscone, who rebuffs his request for re-appointment. Enraged, White shoots Moscone and then Milk. The film suggests that Milk believed that White might be a closeted gay man.
The film ends with an aerial shot of the candlelight vigil held by thousands for Milk and Moscone throughout the streets of the city.