‘Milk’ Stars Say Gay-Rights Pioneer’s Story ‘Isn’t Just A History Lesson’

'If Harvey Milk was alive today, there is no doubt he would be fighting Prop 8,' James Franco says of California's recent gay-marriage ban.

BEVERLY HILLS, California — More than a week after California narrowly passed Proposition 8 , which effectively bans gay marriage, protests have erupted all over the Golden State.

In many ways, the demonstrations mirror the efforts of ’70s gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk. As a new biopic gets ready to tell Milk’s story with a newfound relevance, and the film’s stars march alongside the Prop 8 protesters, art and life are imitating each other in a very unique way.

“Things [since the '70s] have changed, but with Prop 8, it shows that we are not all the way there,” James Franco sighed over the weekend, offering his support for a movement that had scheduled protests in L.A. and New York on Wednesday evening (November 12). “And if Harvey Milk was alive today, there is no doubt he would be fighting Prop 8 as hard as he could. It just shows that this movie isn’t just a history lesson. It’s showing issues that are still very much alive today.”

In “Milk,” due in theaters November 26, Sean Penn portrays the country’s first openly gay elected official. Co-starring Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and “Dan in Real Life” actress Alison Pill, the film has garnered some of the best reviews of the year while telling the story of a man who became a San Francisco city supervisor and fought against Proposition 6 — which sought to fire gay teachers and those who supported them. Shortly after defeating the proposition in 1978, Milk was shot dead by fellow politician Dan White (played by Josh Brolin ).

“Things are forever changing, and the fact of the matter is, the gay community is still gonna be out in the streets, kissing and holding hands,” Brolin argued. “Because that’s not against the law, nor should it ever be against the law. It doesn’t affect me in a negative way, it doesn’t affect my family in a negative way, so therefore I’m an advocate of [reversing Prop 8]. It doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“Prop 6 was a completely different bill, but 30 years ago, many of the arguments remain on the other side,” Pill said. “It’s the same issues. … I would hope that the next time something like Prop 8 comes around, or the next time somebody puts something on a ballot like in Arkansas to stop same-sex couples from adopting children to save those children, that somebody will question that argument.”

“It’s very stupid that we don’t seem to learn,” Luna said. “I mean, the Obama thing happened, and then there was [the Prop 8 and Arkansas] things to be really sad of. It’s like we give one step forward and take four steps backwards.”

In “Milk,” however, Penn’s character is told that Prop 6 will most likely succeed despite his best efforts. He optimistically responds that even if they lose, the resulting fury will unify the movement as never before — a prediction that now seems to be coming true 30 years later.

“I think he probably would have instigated [the protests],” Brolin said of Harvey Milk. “The fact of the matter is, he had a huge impact … on the gay community. Then, after he died, that’s billowed. … If he was alive now, I think he’d be doing exactly what he was doing back then: inspiring people to protest, inspiring people to allow their voices to be heard.”

“This is like the evil sequel,” Hirsch laughed. “[Milk] would say, ‘Keep going.’ He would say it’s important to stand up in what you believe in. Nonviolent protesting, I think, is really productive for people and the country.”

“He would go to the streets and say, ‘Talk to your representatives in government, do something, get up,’ ” Pill said. “The fact that Prop 8 did, in fact, pass has just really motivated the movement again, instead of becoming a little bit more complacent. … These marches are absolutely incredible, to see that many people out and fighting for something they believe in. … On Tuesday, they were walking through my neighborhood. [I saw] all of my neighbors dance in the streets, and I was like, ‘Wow, people are excited about their civic duty!’ ”

“The world does not just need one Harvey,” Luna said. “It needs many Harveys.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Milk.”

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