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Sean Penn (Associated Press/Photo by Mark J. Terrill)

Winner's circle

Movies | "Milk" gets its say but "Slumdog" wins the day

It wouldn't be the Oscars if it weren't political, and last night's award winners for the film Milk vented their spleens against conservative Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and promoted Proposition 8 in California.

Nominated for eight Oscars, the film about San Francisco gay activist Harvey Milk won two. Dustin Lance Black, accepting the first award for best original screenplay, recalled being raised "in a conservative and Mormon home" when he heard Milk's story at age 13 just as his family moved to California. "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," said the first-time nominee and writer for HBO's Big Love.

"I want to thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am," he said. "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 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 who have value. And that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you."

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Hours later Sean Penn accepted the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Milk, the slain San Francisco supervisor and gay rights leader: "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns," Sean Penn told the academy. "I did not expect this, and I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often."

Oscar in hand, the irascible Penn could not resist the opportunity to poke traditional marriage advocates: "I think it's a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect on their great shame and their shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Backstage, Black continued to lobby for gay rights, telling reporters he would like to see President Barack Obama immediately "repeal 'don't ask don't tell,' and DMA, Defensive Marriage Act [its real name is Defense of Marriage Act]. But I do think that for inspiration for the gay community, we need to look not to Proposition 8, but dream bigger and look back to 1964 and the Civil Rights Act, because no group has ever won full civil rights in this country going state by state or county by county. I think it is time for the gay and lesbian community to have a federal civil rights act for full civil rights."

The audience in the Kodak Theater roared its appreciation for the Milk winners, but it was a movie about traditional romance and triumph in the midst of suffering that won over the Academy's judges. Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's low-budget film about three orphans making their way through poverty in Mumbai, took eight Oscars out of nine categories in which it was nominated, including Best Picture.


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