The highly anticipated film about the life of the first openly gay politician to hold public office in the US premiered at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Tuesday night.

Milk, helmed by gay director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho), tells the story of Harvey Milk who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

He was assassinated on November 27, 1978, at the age of 48, along with San Francisco’s mayor, by Dan White, a disgruntled city official.

“He’s an American hero. He’s a great example of a man representing his community and his city,” Van Sant told reporters.

The film stars Sean Penn as Milk and James Franco (Spiderman) as his partner Scott Smith. Josh Brolin plays Dan White.

A group of people picketed outside the premiere, holding “Vote No on Prop 8” signs, to show their support for same-sex marriage in California.

After being legalised in May this year by the courts, same-sex marriage could be scrapped in the state if the ‘Proposition 8’ referendum to amend the Californian constitution is approved by voters on November 4.

The event was attended by the film’s stars and a host of celebrities including Penn, Franco, Brolin, Diane Lane, Emile Hirsh and T.R. Knight.

Milk opens in the US on November 26. A South African release date has not yet been set for the film.

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