Sean Penn Premieres "Milk" In San Francisco

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SAN FRANCISCO — It was only fitting that "Milk," the film about Harvey Milk's life and death, premiere Tuesday night in the Castro.

Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay leader who was slain 30 years ago, used to call himself "the Mayor of Castro Street," referring to the main drag through the neighborhood he represented on the Board of Supervisors and the center of the city's gay and lesbian community.

The world premiere of his biopic brought considerable star power to Milk's beloved Castro Theatre, including director Gus Van Sant and stars Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna. The film follows Milk's rise to office and his and Mayor George Moscone's assassination at City Hall by fellow Supervisor Dan White in 1978.

Van Sant said he had been talking about making this film for 18 years.

"He's an American hero," Van Sant said. "He's a great example of a man representing his community and his city."

Milk received another tribute earlier in the day, when a historic streetcar featured in the film was dedicated to him. The supervisor had been a champion of public transportation.

Tuesday night's premiere also brought out many of Milk's old friends who helped usher in the gay rights movement that has led, a generation later, to a fight over the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Gay rights activist Cleve Jones, played in the film by Emile Hirsch, said Milk would have been thrilled at the film but angry that the fight over civil rights continued. He pointed across the street, where hundreds were rallying against Proposition 8, a Nov. 4 ballot measure that would rewrite the California constitution to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

"Harvey would be angry," Jones said, "and he'd still be fighting."