Dustin Lance Black: Love, Marriage, and Justice
I’ve wanted to land this interview with Dustin Lance Black for a long time. "Why?" you may ask. He’s an interesting guy who has done much in his 38 years and has done a great deal to further the cause of equality for the LGBT community and continues to work hard for all concerned. His belief that you can change the course of history by participating with your opponents, not alienating them, is inspiring. A favorite quote from Abraham Lincoln comes to mind, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends? "The other conviction he shared, about it being his duty to participate in the political process, should make us all think long and hard about what’s at stake this November and our involvement. It is a seminal moment for the LGBT community and we all have a lot to loose or win depending on how you look at it.
Another reason is because of the play making its way to stages all around the country, it’s called "8 The Play" and it was how we ended up connecting. By this time most of us know (or should know) what it’s about: It portrays the legal arguments and witness testimony during the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial, which led to the overturn of California’s Proposition 8. Showing the human cost of discrimination, what the arguments were and how they fell apart. Put together as docu-drama, as a means to educate and inform the public on what is at stake.
Dustin Lance Black is a busy, busy guy and an admitted workaholic, "That’s the Mormon in me." I was glad he was able to take a moment and chat with me about his life, politics, what’s coming up for him and the play’s intended impact.
So Dustin, this play is about such a pivotal moment in time, what does if feel like to be a part of history being made?
My philosophy has always been, to make history happen. It only takes studying a few people in history to know that it’s the only way that change actually happens-if you make it happen. To me it seems like it’s our duty at this moment to insure that things keep going in the direction that helps to save lives. It makes people safer, more protected and more respected.
Do you have an idea of how many productions you have done so far of "8"?
If you go to the 8theplay.com website, it not only tells you how many, it maps them out. It’s pretty remarkable what Jenny Kanelos, and the folks at Broadway Impact have been able to do with getting it out there. It’s a bit over 300 productions I believe; in fact I think it’s quite a bit over 300 at this point.
You never know when something is going to catch on, or what’s going to catch fire. It’s interesting to me that it generally tends to be those things that you do for free. No one was making money off the production of "Milk" and it did great. Literally, again with "8," no one has made a dime on this, everyone is in it for the right reasons. Nobody is involved for personal gain-it creates a fertile atmosphere for change and progress, it’s really nice.
I am curious, how closely does the play follow the actual trial transcripts?
It’s redacted from about three and a half weeks down to about 80 minutes, depending on the production, so it clearly had to be cut way, way down from the original transcripts. My rule was, that any time the lawyers, from each side, the judge or the witnesses were speaking, those words were taken directly from the trial transcripts.
What was remarkable about sitting in that trial day after day was to see what happens when people are made to finally tell the truth. When their right hand has been raised, when they are testifying under penalty of perjury, to actually hear what those exact words were. To watch their arguments (meaning the opposition to equality’s arguments) to watch those arguments fall apart-it was remarkable. So I felt like inventing words for them would be dishonest and I didn’t want to do that.
For me, that is truly one of the best parts of the production, watching the arguments against equality fall apart, it was inspiring-truth did win out.
I have to say that was truly the most moving thing for all of us who were able to go to the actual trial. To finally see the folks who put ads out on television, on the Internet, forcing us to hear all the junk science they’ve been putting out for generations. To see these people refuse to come into court, afraid to come into court to testify under oath. To watch the one single person willing to come and testify, fold on the stand and now famously, he’s come over to the side of equality (David Blankenhorn, founder of the Institute for American Values think tank).
That’s why I am grateful that the story is out there as much as it has been, it is so important that people see this play. It makes it impossible to stay on the side of inequality when you are forced to face the dishonestly of it.
It reminds me a great deal of other movements in this country like Civil Rights or the Women’s movement, in the end it was about the truth of equality and being respected no matter what your "label."
That is the philosophy of American Foundation for Equal Rights; we don’t believe that this fight should be at the ballot box. Ballot initiative campaigns are always filled with lies, all you have to do is turn on the T.V. right now to realize that there is very little truth in anyone’s ads.
Ballot initiatives are not a good place to find honesty, in anything for that matter. But we have this lovely, beautiful, brilliant place in our country were people are made to tell the truth; it’s called a court of law. So we feel that’s the best place for us to tell our stories, because we don’t have anything to hide. You can go all the way back to Harvey Milk who said it, "our truth, our stories are what will set us free."
Do you think that Theodore Olson and David Boies’ decision to get involved changed the tide?
Yes, Ted being on the far right and David being on the far left was important, having been court foes for their entire careers, as in Bush v. Gore; Ted working for George Bush and David supporting Al Gore, it was amazing to watch them work together. I don’t think it was anything they ever imagined that they would do in their careers.
I think it was the reason we all felt comfortable going ahead and filing the case, because we knew we could change the narrative of the movement-to start making the conservative case for marriage equality. I think that’s why we felt confident that we would win, if and when this gets to the Supreme Court. Ted has been very helpful in doing that, literally writing an article for Newsweek titled, "The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage."
It might not be like most of us gay people feel, I’m certainly not conservative guy in most ways, but my family all is and a lot of the kids out there who suffer the most, their families are either conservative or live in conservative areas. I think in the end, it’s probably more life saving to be making that conservative case for marriage equality.
The other side of this has been the ability to tell our stories to a group of people, conservative people, who otherwise may never have paid us any attention.
I think that’s the key, when you put a face on the movement, it’s easy to dislike "the gays" and dismiss the movement because it’s a thing not a real person. It’s harder to discriminate against an uncle, a brother, someone with a face you know.
It’s been nice when we travel with this show to be able to at colleges, to remind people to go to the conservative groups, to go to the Young Republican organizations, because the hero of the play, their great hero, Ted Olsen is a Republican and I think that blows people’s minds. It opens eyes and that’s been helpful.
What has been the most interesting of the productions you have been involved with?
Probably for me, the most emotional was going to a high school here in Los Angeles, one of the first high schools to premiere it. I was so concerned because I thought, "boy this is dense material for high school students, I don’t know if they’ll get it." But they were great, they were so good, the kids were roaring with laughter throughout the whole thing. Some of the things that the defense, the opposition to equality said, the arguments they made, were hysterical to them, in ways that they aren’t even to me yet. They thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen, because they couldn’t believe that people would say such things. That was very exciting for me.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?
There’s a bunch of projects coming up, mostly they are shooting right now. I have the "Barefoot Bandit" with Robert Zemeckis, "Under the Banner of Heaven" with Ron Howard, both of those should be shooting early next year. Then I have a new earthquake movie that J.J. Abrams and I are doing, but I can’t talk too much about it (laughs), that’s over at Universal. Those are the headlines, there are other things coming but for now that’s enough!