As a prominent Hollywood screenwriter and now movie director — and as a gay man in America — Dustin Lance Black knows the value of storytelling.
"Storytelling in any form has been a piece of any successful civil-rights movement. You are the other. You’re different than most people," Black said in a phone interview this week. "In order to find commonality and understanding, we have to tell our stories."
Black in SLC
Dustin Lance Black, Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” will be grand marshal of the Utah Pride Parade.
Where » Downtown Salt Lake City, starting at 400 East and 300 South.
When » Sunday, June 3, starting at 10 a.m. — culminating in the day-long Utah Pride Festival in Washington Square, around the Salt Lake City-County Building, 450 S. State St.
Black — who won an Oscar for his "Milk" screenplay — will be in Salt Lake City this weekend as grand marshal of Sunday’s Utah Pride Parade. He also will take part in events all weekend for the Utah Pride Festival, which he calls "one of the most important pride festivals that our country holds."
For gays and lesbians, Black said, sharing personal stories is a means of "introducing ourselves to people who don’t know who we truly are, and it’s also inviting that community — and it’s not just for the gay and lesbian people — to participate. Inviting people who do believe in equality, in communities where that’s perhaps not the majority opinion, to be supportive of their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and co-workers."
Black grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Texas and central California and claims many relatives in Utah. As the only writer with a Mormon background on HBO’s series "Big Love," he led his fellow writers on field trips to Utah to soak up the local culture.
"I am very close to many people who live in Utah and who are in the Mormon Church," Black said. "I’ve been lucky enough to have the conversations about who I am and who we are as a community. Oftentimes, my own family members are surprised to find out who we truly are.."
One thing gays and Mormons have in common, Black said, is "our desire for family, our desire to raise families, our desire to have our families and our children protected and respected in the country and when they go to school."
A group of about 100 active LDS members will march in Sunday’s parade right behind Black. The group, calling itself Mormons Building Bridges, will dress in Sunday best to show support for Utah’s LGBT community.
Some of Black’s experiences as a Mormon growing up in the South form the basis of "Virginia," an independent drama that marks his debut as a director. (The movie has been released slowly around the country and opens Friday, June 1 at the Tower Theatre. )
The movie begins toward the end of a longtime affair between a mentally unstable woman (Jennifer Connelly) and a married Mormon sheriff (Ed Harris) with aspirations of a state Senate seat. The relationship comes to a breaking point when the woman’s son (Harrison Gilbertson) and the sheriff’s daughter (Emma Roberts) start hanging out together.
"There’s a lot of myself in that script," Black said. "It’s me exorcising some of my demons."
Meanwhile, another work of Black’s is taking off nationwide: "8," a stage play he wrote, taken from the court transcripts of the lawsuit aimed at overthrowing California’s 2008 anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative, Proposition 8. (The proposition was overturned in a federal court, and a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in February. Supporters of Prop. 8 have asked the whole Ninth Circuit to review the ruling, and it’s likely the whole thing will end up before the Supreme Court.)
"That play is the little engine that could — it never ceases to amaze me," he said.
The play has had star-studded readings in New York and Los Angeles, both fundraisers for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the nonprofit group that backed the lawsuit. Black and director Rob Reiner are developing a movie version. In the meantime, Black has released the play’s licensing rights, so any college group or community theater can stage it for free. (The Utah premiere, staged by Plan-B Theatre Company, is slated for Aug. 4-5.)
For Black, the outreach and educational opportunities from having "8" staged everywhere are part of the mission of having LGBT stories told, in the media and one-on-one.
"I do write movies with gay and lesbian themes," he said, "but I also do the work to get out to the communities where I think sharing our stories can really create change and understanding."
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