The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), directed by Rob Epstein and narrated by Harvey Fierstein, profiles San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to political office in the United States. Milk was then and remains still a major figure in American politics, a symbol of social change as well as a hugely successful politician. His death at the hands of Dan White, a fellow member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, was a seismic shock through the gay and lesbian community that reverberated across the nation. Dan White killed two people that day, yet the murder of Milk was so emotionally devastating that it all but overshadows the killing of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.
Harvey Milk became a symbol for both how far the gay and lesbian community had come, and how far it had to go in terms of cultural acceptance in the community at large. The Times of Harvey Milk acknowledges Milk’s importance as a trailblazer even as it makes a point of revealing the man — and the savvy politician — behind the symbol. The documentary itself is almost as much a landmark: the first openly gay film to win an Academy Award (according to historian B. Ruby Rich) and a portrait that spread not just the story of Harvey Milk and his accomplishments to a wider audience but portrayed gay pride and civic pride as one and the same, and revealed an openly, proudly gay man as, simply, a man, a member of the community, and a human being whose life touched so many others.