chapter  2
Visions of History: Queerness and Race in Hollywood Cinema from the Production Code to X-Men
Pages 32

In 2008, Focus Features released Milk, a film that examines the life and death of San Francisco activist Harvey Milk in the 1970s. While Milk didn’t have as much impact on American popular culture as Brokeback Mountain (released in 2005), the film was a box office success and has certainly earned its place in the history of gay and lesbian cinema. Indeed, Milk’s relationship to history is significant for our understanding of the discourse of queer visibility in the early 2000s. Milk unites two historical narratives that have significantly shaped the definition of out-and-proud gay and lesbian characters as the dominant type of queer visibility in film and television at the present moment. The first historical narrative present in Milk spans the early years of the gay rights movement. Milk chronicles an important chapter in the history of gay and lesbian communities in the United States, namely the activism of Harvey Milk and his election to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. The second historical narrative that shapes Milk is the regulation of queer visibility in Hollywood cinema during the twentieth century. Some would argue that the existence of Milk proves how far Hollywood cinema has come in its engagement with queer visibility. The production and release of a film focusing on gay history by the indie film branch of a big Hollywood studio could be understood as evidence of the increasing inclusion of queer subject matter in the mainstream media ( similar observations have been made about Brokeback Mountain). Uniting these two historical narratives, Milk thus presents a glimpse of LGBTQ history filtered through the lens of our current definition of queer visibility. Both narratives shape the tone, promotion, and rhetoric of the film, which becomes particularly obvious in the film’s paratexts, such as the trailer for the film and the bonus features included on the Milk DVD set.