Gus Van Sant’s Harvey Milk biopic Milk premiered Tuesday night — on the 30th anniversary of Milk’s death — at San Francisco’s famous Castro Street theater, prompting many entertainment bloggers to discuss the political implications of screening such a movie so close to election time. Starring Sean Penn as Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California in the late 1970s, the film is set against a backdrop of political turmoil, including the fight over a ballot proposal that would have made it mandatory to fire all gay teachers working in the school system. Many opponents of California’s current Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage, stood outside the theater encouraging moviegoers to vote against the measure.
With so many themes in the film mirroring today’s election climate did Milk‘s distributor, Focus Features, ever consider opening the movie prior to the election in order to better enter the national conversation? Focus’s distribution chief Jack Foley says it wasn’t even an issue, since the film was only finished a couple weeks ago. But what if it had been ready? Focus says they still would have opted for their Thanksgiving release of Nov. 26. “We wanted it to play for itself rather than wrap it up in politics,” says Foley, who also ran the distribution campaign for Brokeback Mountain. The plan is to open it up in 18 markets on Thanksgiving weekend and then expand it throughout December, hopefully getting a bump with the Golden Globe nominations, which are announced Dec. 11. “The reality is this is a business and there is a lot of competition you have to consider, from Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon,The Wrestler, The Reader, etc. How do you get your film to open and gain a life? That’s what we were thinking about when we chose this day. That’s why we didn’t go before the election.”