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milkpicseanpenn.jpgMy review of “Milk,” the new bio-pic about gay-rights activist Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, pointed out that the movie was like one of those nesting dolls, showing in theaters just as the Prop 8 vote in California sparked actual gay-rights protests outside the theaters. There’s another layer to “Milk,” however, that was too inside-baseball for the review.
Nevermind that the movie’s screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, was raised as a Mormon, and Mormons are being blasted for their financial support of Prop 8. Black is also a writer for the HBO show “Big Love,” a soap opera about polygamists that some mainstream Mormons have criticized as anti-Mormon bigotry. Does Black’s movie excoriate those who call homosexuals perverts while he makes his living presenting Mormons as deviants?


That depends on what you think “Big Love” is really about. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claims that they don’t like HBO’s show because it portrays sex and other mature subjects on television. Beyond that, the church simply asked “Big Love” producers to begin the show with a disclaimer stating that Mormons dropped polygamy as church policy in 1890. But there has always been concern that the show purposely fuzzes the line between Mormonism and its polygamist rump sects. If so, Black is guilty as charged.
But since “Big Love” first aired, many in the gay community has suspected that the show has a more subversive agenda. The characters in “Big Love” are constantly worried about neighbors discovering their secret lifestyle, expecting government agents to burst through the door any minute. The parallels to supressed homosexuals and their fight for civil rights are too clear to ignore. As Mollie on the blog Get Religion pointed out early in the show’s run, “the show is so obviously a thinly veiled campaign for gay marriage that I think the Mormon issues are secondary.”
“Big Love” co-creator Mark V. Olsen has indicated that the show never meant to advocate for gay marriage, but he has acknowledged the parallels and was once quoted as saying, “If people in the gay community want to embrace the show, identify with their struggle, so be it.”
If the polygamy in “Big Love” is a stand-in for other forms of alternative marriage, it’s a weird way to get your point across, but it lets Black off the hypocrisy hook. But it hardly ends the twists and turns of the politics of “Milk.”

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