A Conversation With Oscar-Winner Dustin Lance Black
Dustin Lance Black is a screenwriter, filmmaker and social activist. He has won the Academy Award® and two WGA Awards for Best Original Screenplay for MILK, the biopic of the late civil rights activist Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn. He is also a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which successfully led the federal cases for marriage equality in California and Virginia with lawyers David Boise and Ted Olson, putting an end to California’s discriminatory Proposition 8.
In 2012 Black merged his creative and civil rights work with “8”, a play based on the Federal Proposition 8 trial. “8’s” LA cast included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly. The play was broadcast live, has been staged in eight countries and all fifty states and continues to break viewership records online.
An honors graduate of UCLA’s School of Film and Television, Black began his career as an art director and quickly transitioned to directing documentaries and commercials. Black’s documentaries ON THE BUS (2001) and MY LIFE WITH COUNT DRACULA (2003) debuted to acclaim and led to a successful stint producing and directing TLC and BBC’s hit program FAKING IT, which received notices for its unflinching sociological commentaries.
In 2004, Black signed on to draw on his Mormon childhood experiences in San Antonio as a writer and co-producer on HBO’s Emmy® and Golden Globe® nominated polygamist drama BIG LOVE (Bill Paxton). He continued to write for the show through its third season in 2008. During that time, Black penned the screenplay PEDRO, about the life and legacy of famed openly gay, HIV positive Real World cast member Pedro Zamora. The film earned Black his second WGA Award nomination when it premiered on MTV and VH1 in 2009.
In 2011, Black earned his second “10 Best of the Year” award from the American Film Institute for his Clint Eastwood directed screenplay J.EDGAR starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Black’s feature directorial debut VIRGINIA (Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris) premiered in theaters May 2012.
Black is currently developing THE BAREFOOT BANDIT for FOX, based on the true story of Colton Harris-Moore. He is also adapting Jon Krakauer’s acclaimed UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN for director Ron Howard, and has created the miniseries WHEN WE RISE for ABC about the modern LGBT Rights Movement in America.
Since winning the Oscar in 2009, Black has split his creative time in order to fight for LGBTQ equality at the national level. Beyond working with the American Foundation For Equal Rights (AFER), he served three years on the board of the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth crisis hotline, where he established a permanent hotline in Harvey Milk’s former camera shop on the Castro District. Black has also been on an equal rights speaking tour, and was one of a handful of organizers of the LGBT March on Washington in October 2009 where he spoke to an audience of over 150,000 demonstrators in front of the Nation’s Capitol. Recently, Black has expanded his scope to international activism: He is one of the co-founders of the Uprising of Love Coalition which seeks to raise awareness of violence and discrimination committed against LGBTI people in the international community.
Black has taught MFA screenwriting at UCLA, regularly appears on MSNBC and CNN, has had three books published, has written for every major screenwriting magazine, contributes to The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post, topped the list of OUT Magazine’s 40 under 40, and has repeatedly been named one of the 50 most powerful LGBT people in America today.