The Lesbian in “Milk”: Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg

 
 

But it’s another scene where Pill has her star turn.

The
night after Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Dan White,
she and Harvey’s lover Scott Smith (James Franco) go down to City Hall, where
there is supposed to be some kind of memorial service for the two men. It’s
poorly attended, and they head back towards the Castro, despondent.

And flowing down Market
Street
, headed by Cleve Jones, is a river of
mourners, stretching for miles, candles flickering in their hands. Anne says
very little, but her face is a testament to the power of that moment, both for
those who were there at the time, and those who came together to re-enact it
for the cameras thirty years later.

"That whole night – I will never forget shooting
it," Pill said, her voice shaking a little. "I will never forget the
number of volunteers who came out, and in everybody’s faces, like the older
couples who had obviously been there, and younger couples who knew who Harvey
was, and gay or straight, old or young, whatever; everybody was there to celebrate his life.
And it was incredible that people were willing to do that for no other reason
than we asked them if they would be willing to come out to Market Street in the middle of the night
and walk for hours.”

Scene
recreating the memorial march in San Francisco
the night of Harvey Milk’s assassination

“I will never forget just walking out into Market St. and
seeing literally thousands of people there for that reason. It was an amazing thing
to be a part of, and it was so representative of what Harvey was about."

Although Pill said she was a strong supporter of LGBT rights
before signing onto Milk, the battle
for marriage equality and against Prop 8 has made a powerful impression on her
after having played the role of Anne.

"I’m just so utterly furious about Prop 8," she
said. "I thought it could have gone 52-48 the other way this time. I wish
that Prop 8 didn’t happen. I wish that (the ban on adoption by unmarried people
in) Arkansas
had never happened. I wish what happened in Florida didn’t happen. I hope we never see
anything like that again."

One of Pill’s hopes for the film is that it will further the
cause for which Milk gave his life, and thinks it has a powerful lesson for
communities struggling with divisiveness. "What Anne and Harvey did was
bridge a gap that is too often there between people with similar views, but who
are still sort of disconnected, which is how it was in the gay and lesbian
communities at the time," she said. "And I hope that sort of offers
some sort of lesson for the next time, and the fight against Prop 8, that we
have to get people together who are close but not quite there, to try and close
that final gap."

It’s a sign of how connected Pill is with the woman behind
her character that Kronenberg said almost the exact same thing, adding that
much of Milk’s effectiveness was in his skill as a coalition builder.

"Harvey
was all about reaching out to disenfranchised people," Kronenberg said.
"Not just lesbians and gay men, but African Americans and women. He
really, really got the connection with feminism, with human rights. Long before
I came on the campaign, Harvey
was a crusader for women’s rights. I didn’t
change him in any way."

Said Pill, "I think what Harvey did was absolutely incredible, forming
a coalition of people who had never worked together before…. the lesbian
community was so separate from the gay community. And to put these two really
powerful activist cultures together did an amazing thing, and Anne was so much
a part of that, and gaining access to a whole other political machine through
that. I think it’s incredible that he was able to do it."

It wasn’t always easy doing it Harvey’s way.

"There was a lot of
suspicion when I came in," Kronenberg said. "Those walls were up, but
we learned to play together well and we had lots and lots of fun. And by my
being involved in the campaign, that naturally brought more women into the
campaign. So I think the whole dynamic changed. And what would have happened if
Harvey had
still lived? I think that this would have
continued."

Although Kronenberg gave Milk’s campaign a legitimacy and
energy it had previously lacked – along with his first win – she says she got
more from him than he did from her. "I learned to be a stronger woman than
I was," she said. "We all were really young when we met Harvey. And I learned that I could do anything I set
my mind to because Harvey
gave us the framework, and then he let us just go and excel."

That may be why everyone involved with the film expressed at
some point the fear that Harvey’s
legacy might be lost. I asked Pill about something screenwriter Dustin Lance
Black said, that one of the reasons he wrote the story was that he was worried
that Milk was slipping out of history.

"Yes, I think there was a real danger of that,"
Pill said. "When we were shooting in San Francisco, people in the Bay Area – people my age,
gay, lesbian – they had no idea, didn’t even know the name. And, in terms of
the city’s history, and human rights and civil rights history, it’s absurd that
none of us really know about it. I’m so grateful that I got to do this research
on a chapter of history that I really didn’t know anything about."


Learning that history gave Pill a new perspective on playing a lesbian.

"I grew up in an era, a time and place, where (being
gay) just doesn’t seem like that big a deal," she said. "And I forget
how big a deal it is, and how much things have changed, and then again, how
little they’ve changed…. Thankfully, there are more gay characters being
written that are fuller, and not stereotypical, and I can only hope to see more
of that. I’d be honored to play somebody else like Anne again."

Alison has big expectations for Milk, and they go far beyond her own career. "I just hope that
when everybody sees this movie it will offer, first of all, some hope that
things have improved," she said. "And things will improve more, but
only with a great deal of activism and forethought, and coming out, and making
people deal with it."

Allison Pill has one more hope for the film, and her role in
it: "That Anne Kronenberg won’t be forgotten. That she becomes an
inspiration."

Read our review of Milk

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