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February 27, 2009

Harvey would have loved Oscar speeches for ‘Milk’

Los Angeles--It was no Slumdog Millionaire, but the Gus Van Sant film of Harvey Milk’s life from the time he left New York until his death won two Academy Awards on February 22.

Writer Dustin Lance Black picked up the first of the film’s Oscars, in the category of Best Original Screenplay.

Black, a former Mormon who helped create HBO’s Big Love and wrote the screenplay for the Pedro Zamora biopic Pedro, talked about first learning of the gay San Francisco supervisor as a boy.

“When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk,” he said during his acceptance speech. “And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married.”

“I want to thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to,” he continued. “But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours.”

Later, Sean Penn won Best Actor for his portrayal of Milk. His left-wing political stances have made him the target of repeated criticism from right-wing bloggers and pundits, and he hit the ground running in his acceptance speech.

“Thank you. Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns,” Penn joked. “I did not expect this, but I, and I want it to be very clear, that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often. But I am touched by the appreciation and I hoped for it enough that I did want to scribble down, so I had the names in case you were commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns.”

After thanking his cast, crew, family and friends, his speech returned to a political bent as he noted the picketers outside the Kodak Theater from Fred Phelps’ family in Topeka, Kansas.

“And finally, for those--two last ‘finallys’--for those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support,” he said. “We've got to have equal rights for everyone. And there are, and there are, these last two things. I'm very, very proud to live in a country that is willing to elect an elegant man president and a country who, for all its toughness, creates courageous artists.”

The late Heath Ledger, who was a Best Actor nominee for Brokeback Mountain in 2006, picked up the Academy’s second posthumous Best Supporting Actor award for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

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