J. Edgar to 8: Dustin Lance Black's artistic triumphs for gay rights

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One of the great historians of our time, Dustin Lance Black is responsible for some great dramatic portrayals of our country's past. Whether his subject is Harvey Milk, J. Edgar Hoover or the California State Supreme Court, Black is painstakingly thorough with his research and masterful with his storytelling. While his themes are consistent and his LGBT rights message clear, Black is consistently fair and empathetic to the real-life characters he portrays. Tonight the Denver Center for the Performing Arts will host a reading of Black's recent play 8, which illustrates what happened in the historic Perry vs Schwarzenegger case concerning California's Proposition 8.

Continue reading for other examples of Black's artistic triumphs for gay rights:

See also: - How to Survive a Plague: an AIDS and GLBTQ activism film primer - My fake Facebook engagement to a gay guy - Spike Lee's most beautifully preachy moments

J. Edgar

In the days of J. Edgar Hoover's America, homosexuality was thought to be a symptom of a larger kind of madness. In an earlier scene, Hoover's mother explains to him that she'd rather have a dead son than a "daffodil" for a son, forever cementing in young Hoover the idea that there would always be a side to him that could never be unleashed. Avoiding any overt preachiness, in his screenplay for J. Edgar -- and in this scene in particular -- Dustin Lance Black clearly illustrates that in 1940s America, madness didn't create homosexuality, but rather society's treatment of homosexuals drove them to madness.

Oscar Speech 2009

Dustin Lance Black wasn't the first openly gay Oscar winner (that title belongs to Sir John Gielgud), but he did make Hollywood history with his 2009 acceptance speech for his screenplay for Milk. Mimicking something Harvey Milk himself often did (including in the film), Black used the national platform to deliver a message to the LGBT youth of America, reminding anyone who has been "told that you are less than by your church, or the government, or by your family, that you are wonderful, beautiful creatures of value. And that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you; and very soon you will have equal rights."

Big Love

It was never overtly stated that the HBO drama Big Love used the struggles of a polygamist family in hiding the truth from their church as an allegory for those hiding their homosexuality from the world, (though Michelle Bachman did, with sinister implications). But considering that co-creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer were a same-sex married couple, and that one of their writer/producers was Dustin Lance Black, the idea starts to come together. The only ex-Mormon on the Big Love staff, Black brought personal insight into many key details of the series. Similar to the J. Edgar scene, here there is no allegory: only a straightahead portrayal of the effects of sexual repression.


Dustin Lance Black caught the break of his career when indie film director Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy) signed on to direct his biopic of gay-rights icon Harvey Milk. Starring Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, Milk is a classic American history story, following the dramatic and rocky path of the sexual revolution kicking its way into the halls and chairs of the California legislature.

8: The Mormon Proposition

Starting as a documentary on homeless LGBT youth in Utah, this film's scope expanded considerably during California's contested amendment banning gay marriage. Narrated by Dustin Lance Black, 8: The Mormon Proposition uncovers funds of approximately $22 million raised by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to promote the passage of California Proposition 8. Dustin Lance Black would later revisit the subject, chronicling the landmark case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger in his play, 8.

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts will host a reading of 8 tonight, October 15, at the Stage, with a reception at 5:30, reading at 7 and talk-back at 8:30 p.m. with local political leaders including Colorado House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino and state Senator Lucía Guzmán, along with Brad Clark, executive director ONE Colorado. Tickets are $20 or $50 for VIP; proceeds from this one-night-only event will benefit ONE Colorado Education Fund and American Foundation for Equal Rights, as well as Denver Center Theatre Company. For more information, visit www.denvercenter.org

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