The Times of Harvey Milk



Thought-provoking look at a charismatic politician’s life.
  • Review Date: June 28, 2009
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 1984
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

No matter your beliefs, this is a powerful portrayal of civic engagement.

Positive role models

Milk exhibits tenacity, compassion, and patience. White is motivated by mental instability and intolerance.


Harvey Milk is assassinated. News footage shows cops running though City Hall and ambulances wailing. Some rioting after his death. Nothing gory but certainly upsetting.


Some kissing. Shirtless men dancing in the streets of San Francisco.


Occasional swearing, including “asshole” and “f--k.” An interview subject uses the word “fruit” to describe Milk.


Signage in Castro district shops, including Harvey Milk’s camera shop. Mention of Coors beer in the context of a beverage boycott. Logos for TV channels.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this documentary provides an unvarnished examination of a despicable act: the assassination of gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. Though the crime itself isn’t shown, the buildup to it and the aftermath could be upsetting for viewers under 12.  Teens and adults will find it a thought-provoking piece of history.

Kids say

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What's the story?

A 1984 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature, THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK is a riveting account of politician Harvey Milk’s rise to power in San Francisco and his fight for gay rights. A beloved local figure, Milk, the self-billed “mayor” of the Castro district, ran a camera shop that served as de facto headquarters for his burgeoning political aspirations. Sadly, his career was cut short when fellow city supervisor Dan White shot him and Mayor George Moscone dead at City Hall, an event that changed the face of San Francisco -- and the country -- forever.

Is it any good?


Director Rob Epstein has mined the archives fully with news footage and interviews that bring the intriguing, charismatic Milk back to life. He leaves almost no stone unturned here without overwhelming with too much detail. The story unfolds like the real-life drama that it was, the suspense inching up as the fateful day approaches, backed up by amazing visuals and audio (including Milk reading his will). What a feat: It could’ve just as easily ended up dry as toast like many other documentaries looking back on history. And what a history it is! It’s not just Milk audiences get to know, it’s the entire city of San Francisco at a time when change was a constant and revolution the operative word.

A few (minor) complaints: Milk is tangible as an adult, but before that, he’s imprecise. We see some photos from his younger years, but not many, not until his move to San Francisco. White, his nemesis, feels a little slight, too, a mystery figure about which not much is known. One gets a sense of a tortured, complicated man, but not much more. Nevertheless, the film’s a revelation.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what audiences know about Milk’s legacy and how this film helps inform. How helpful is the film in disseminating more information about Milk and the circumstances surrounding his death?

  • Families can also discuss stereotypes, the gay rights movement, and Milk’s place in it. How did he bring about lasting change? What would he think about the gay rights movement today?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 26, 1984
DVD release date:June 8, 2004
Cast:Anne Kronenberg, Harvey Fierstein, Harvey Milk
Director:Rob Epstein
Studio:New Yorker Films
Run time:90 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 13 year old Written bytomdarling February 19, 2010
This film is about a man trying to change things. He is gay, and its a motivator for him, but it is not all that he is about. Instead, this is about power changing in peaceful ways and the violent reaction against it; first in words and attempts at passing laws, and then violence on the part of one man. Most interesting is that it does not try to judge anyone or create a saint, but lets the footage tell a story. Good things to point out are that not only Milk but the straight mayor were killed, the peaceful reaction to this violence, the violent reaction to the verdict (what happens when system fail to be just), the reaction of the government to the destruction of property (as opposed to two murders), and that Dan White's life ends in tragedy, too (suicide). All around, a positive movement ends in all around tragedy. The movie "Milk" was based on this, and botches the job in every way. I like Sean Penn, but it was horrible and preachy. If viewers are homophobic they will not be comfortable with the film, but anyone with some curiosity and tolerance will see it as a struggle of the individual and for rights. This film is not about sex or love, but political power and respect. There is some language, but if you are open to the topic the language will not shock. Overall, it is appropriate.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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