Oscar-Winning Filmmaker Dustin Lance Black Speaks at Elmhurst

May 13, 2014 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Dustin Lance Black is a director, producer and screenwriter, and a social activist in the tradition of Harvey Milk.

In 2009 Black won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Milk, the film starring Sean Penn that chronicled the momentous final months of the LGBT civil rights activist before he was assassinated, in 1978.

On May 8, Black presented a lecture, Harvey Milk, Proposition 8 and Me, to a large, appreciative crowd at Elmhurst College. The day before his Elmhurst lecture, Black gave an interview on WBEZ’s Morning Shift.

At Elmhurst, Black described a childhood spent in loneliness and shame, growing up Mormon in San Antonio, Texas, and realizing at a very young age, without yet understanding why, that he was different and “broken.”

As a teenager, he and his family moved to California, where he first heard a speech by Harvey Milk. It was the first time he heard a leader who led “with hope and not fear,” he said. “Also, for the first time, I heard a vision of hope that included me.”

“Harvey Milk gave me my life,” Black said.

He challenged audience members to embrace all the qualities and experiences that make them different, and “to use that unique vision to build bridges to other people and other communities.”

In addition to his work as a screenwriter and filmmaker, Black is a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which successfully led the federal case against Proposition 8 in California and continues to work for LGBT equality today. In 2012 Black merged his creative and civil rights work to write 8, a play that portrays the closing arguments in the federal trial that led to the overturning of Prop 8 and the establishment of marriage equality in the nation’s largest state. The Los Angeles cast for 8 included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly. The play has been staged in eight countries and all 50 states.

Black also has served on the board of the Trevor Project, a national nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people. In 2011 Black helped to give the Trevor Project’s hotline call center a permanent home, in Harvey Milk’s old camera shop in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.

His current projects include The Barefoot Bandit, a screenplay based on the true story of outlaw Colton Harris-Moore, for 20th Century Fox; an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven, about fundamentalist Mormonism, for director Ron Howard; and a miniseries for ABC on the LGBTQ rights movement in America.

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