Asian Americans in 'Milk'

December 16, 2008

In Gus Van Sant's Milk, I thought Michael Wong (played by Kelvin Yu, after some casting controversy) was the least developed of all the characters in the supervisor's cabinet of close advisors. Ignoring the joking repetition of Harvey's pet name for Wong -- Lotus Blossom -- the film didn't quite get across Harvey's progressive ideas about coalition building in the Asian American community, (which Jeff Yang recently wrote about.) Well, not in the way the documentary does.

The documentary has really interesting, heartfelt commentary by Henry Der, the then-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, which really shows how Harvey was reaching across city lines and interested in building a progressive coalition. This is mentioned in the narrative film, for sure, but the doc let's you see it in action. For example, there is a great scene when Milk leads the vote for Asian American supervisor Gordon Lau in his run for board president, against Dianne Feinstein, who represented the political machine. 
Either way, seeing both the narrative and the documentary gives a great sense of what an integral role Asian Americans played in Harvey Milk's career and in the politics of San Francisco at that time.

This blog entry is graciously sponsored by Toyota Matrix. Check out their website dedicated to the best in Asian American film.

Toyota Matrix




I just watched Milk and was taken aback by the references to "Lotus Blossom", which seemed the only note in the film that was out of keeping with the hagiographic and saintly depiction of the main subject. In case anyone thought it was affectionate, there was the "don't you have someone's laundry to do?" comment. I gather this was true to life but still seemed a little jarring.
i can't wait to see Milk. The Times of Harvey Milk is an awesome documentary.