Will Milk be able to reach mainstream audiences in the same way that Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain did?

Mainstream 'Milk'

on November 25, 2008 by Phil Contrino

As Milk slowly opens in theatres across the country, it will try to present the challenges that a legendary homosexual man faced to a mass audience.

Considering that many gay-themed films are forced to settle for limited theatrical runs and the mediocre grosses that often come with the territory, this goal is certainly no small task for the film's distributor, Focus.


From a mainstream perspective it helps that Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn inhabited the role of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and that Academy Award-nominated director Gus Van Sant sat behind the camera.

With such a strong pedigree in its corner, Milk has a shot becoming the kind of mainstream hit that two other gay-themed films, Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain, were.

Released in December 1993, Philadelphia dealt with AIDS and its damaging role in the life of a homosexual lawyer named Andrew Beckett (played by Tom Hanks in an Oscar winning turn). The film was a huge mainstream success and it grossed $77 million domestically, which equals around $134.7 million today based on inflation.

2005's Brokeback Mountain brought in $83 million domestically and it fell just shy of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture after winning Oscars for director Ang Lee, its screenplay and its score.

By telling the tragic love story of two cowboys, the film exposed the hostility that homosexuals often face. The late Heath Ledger received almost universal praise, including an Oscar nod, for his moving performance in the film.

If Milk 's reviews are any indication, Penn will at least follow in Ledger's footsteps and gain an Oscar nomination for his work. Whether or not he will win the Best Actor trophy as Hanks did remains to be seen. Either way, the Awards exposure will help the film reach audiences that may not usually feel compelled to see gay-themed films.

"Just like with Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain, Milk is the kind of powerful story that helps Americans understand and embrace their gay family members, friends and neighbors in a more meaningful way," Neil G. Giuliano, President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told B OXOFFICE via email. "Films like Milk show that audiences can be both entertained and educated by stories that reflect the diversity of communities across this country."

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