By Rachel Zeskind on
Look To The Stars’ Celebrity Ambassador recently had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with one of Hollywood’s finest writers at the 2009 Writers Guild Awards, the deeply passionate and talented writer of ‘Milk’, Dustin Lance Black. Not only did his script earn him recognition for its humanitarian message from his peers at the Writers Guild Awards, but also an Oscar for best original screenplay.
In speaking to Dustin about what inspired him so deeply about the story of Harvey Milk, he unfolded his heart and invited me in for a refreshingly honest look.
Dustin hailed from Texas where he was raised by a devote Mormon, military family. For Dustin, this conservative upbringing pulled at his mind and soul in heart wrenching ways, since he knew from a very young age that he was gay. In his family and their community it was taught that gays were evil sinful people that were going to hell, people that deserved no love or union with God.
As Dustin told me about this now, as a strong and confident young man, it was difficult to think of the inner turmoil it must have caused him. Self-doubt, loathing, fear, and secrecy – feelings that many children and adults experience due to a wide variety of reasons and experiences – must have riddled his youth.
Dustin’s inner strength is admirable. It must have taken him a long time to overcome these inner thoughts and allow himself to grow into the man and artist that he is today, using these experiences to bring depth, substance and humanity to his work. Just as any other human being facing an obstacle imposed by those around him, Dustin had the choice to stand up and fight to be true to himself or to crumble.
After moving to California and having success as a Hollywood writer, Dustin turned back to the story that inspired his own dreams and spent years traveling, researching, and writing the film "Milk’. Not only is ‘Milk’ a powerful film, but so is Dustin’s passion and clear outspoken message regarding gay marriage and gay rights. Although the bright and powerful light of Harvey Milk’s life was taken, his impact on gay rights and human rights has had a great and permanent effect. With ‘Milk’, Dustin has lit the torch, fueled by the passion of Harvey Milk, and is now carrying it forward demanding that these issues are not gay issues or religious issues but issues of basic human rights, the rights that say all men are created equal.
Whenever you examine a piece of art closely enough, the artist’s soul is always exposed. In the film ‘Milk’ there is a small role of a young man who calls Harvey Milk at a time of desperation as he seeks comfort, guidance and understanding. After speaking to Dustin, I feel that that character is a direct reflection of Dustin himself. Hearing Dustin tell of his personal dark time – where just hearing of a gay man who wasn’t hiding in the closet but in fact was respected in his community, involved in politics and dedicated to changing the perception and treatment of the gay community – changed everything for Dustin, giving him a new found hope and inspiration.
Dustin said ‘I was doing theater, and the theater director told a group of us the story of an out gay man, and an out gay man who was a hero. And I had never heard of an out gay man period, much less one who was beloved by a city. It was the story of Harvey Milk. It was the moment that I think I started growing again, that I started to blossom again and do all the things that other teenage boys were doing, which was to dream, to hope, to aspire. And without that story, without Harvey, I don’t think any of that would have happened’.
Not only are Dustin’s recent acclaim and achievements a huge win for continuing movement in the basic human rights afforded to the gay and lesbian citizens, but also it is an enormous banner waving in Hollywood for the recognition of true art, films of substance. Ones that deliver meaningful, eye opening, life changing messages.
When asked if he had a goal and hope to have had the movie reach out and touch, move and impact even just one life as Harvey’s story had done for him, Dustin said, ‘Yeah, yes, that’s right, I did. I thought there is so much of his story that is inspiring to today’s generation, not just the gay and lesbian generation but also to say to all the groups of people who are very different, we can come together and when we can work together accepting each others differences, and if we fight for each others civil rights we can win all of our civil rights. That is a message I think should be out there. That not only inspires gay kids but racial and religious minorities. If a kid out there can go and see ‘Milk’ and be like “Yeah I’m really different and that’s really fabulous”, then I think we’ve done our job’.
Dustin poured himself and his experiences into the film ‘Milk,’ but I feel it is a safe prediction that he will raise the bar for filmmakers and audiences everywhere to expect and demand depth and meaning and artistic genius on the big screen from here on out.
After he delivered a powerful acceptance speech defining human rights, respect and unity as a people at the Writers Guild Awards, deeply moved and with tears in my eyes I grabbed Dustin’s elbow gently and begged him to make that speech again and again in every public and televised opportunity, because, as I told him ‘This must be heard, this must be told’, over and over until there is change and our constitution is honored.
Copyright © 2009 Look to the Stars