Dustin Lance Black
The screenwriter of the movies “J. Edgar” and “Milk,” and a former staff writer for HBO’s “Big Love,” Black used trial transcripts and interviews in crafting the play “8,” about the legal battle over California’s Proposition 8, which made gay marriage illegal there. With a cast that includes Kevin Bacon, George Clooney, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Lahti, Jane Lynch, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, and John C. Reilly, a reading of the play, recorded by L.A. Theatre Works, will air on WGBH-FM (89.7) in two parts, June 17 and 24 at 8 p.m.
‘When someone watches this play, and I don’t care where they’re from or where they stand in terms of their beliefs on equality, they’re at least going to question their beliefs.’
Q. Given that Massachusetts has already legalized gay marriage, what is the necessity for a play like this here?
A. We still need to get the message out. While, yes, some states have marriage equality, the sad truth is that these are second-class marriages. They aren’t granted federal rights, and they’re not recognized by the federal government. We need to challenge this “separate but equal” state of mind. You hear some of the arguments being made in this trial are arguments aimed at the US Supreme Court. They’re aimed at making sure every citizen will benefit from state and federal marriage rights.
Q. Why theater for “8,” instead of a movie or a TV show?
A. Growing up, I was incredibly shy. In an attempt to get me out of my shell, my mom put me in theater, so to an extent, this is my return to that art. But there’s also the issue of urgency. A movie takes three years, at least, to make. We need to reach out and educate the people in this country, and theater is immediate. When someone watches this play, and I don’t care where they’re from or where they stand in terms of their beliefs on equality, they’re at least going to question their beliefs. This play shows how in court, the arguments against gay marriage just fall apart. I want to empower the American people with this information before this case goes to the Supreme Court, so American people know what these justices are hearing.
Q. And do you think acts of bullying, like what happened at Rutgers, are proof that gay marriage needs to be talked about more?
A. I think that any time you have a government that still says your love, your life, or your family is not going to be recognized equally, and they’re going to be treated as second-class, it empowers the bullies and the people who hate LGBT people. This is government-sanctioned bullying. We look to our government and churches and families for acceptance, and it’s shameful that the government is sending these sorts of signals. What I’d like to see is a government that says, “It’s not OK to treat people differently. It’s not OK to harass and put violence upon gay and lesbian people.” The only way to do that is to recognize them equally.
Q. You’re from California originally, right?
A. I was born in Sacramento, but I moved to San Antonio, Texas, as a very young child, so most of my memories are from growing up there.
Q. Did growing up in Texas play any part in the work that you do?
A. I think because I grew up in a military family in San Antonio, as a Mormon, and as a gay kid, I was much different than most other people I was meeting. I’ve written for “Big Love” on HBO, “Milk,” and “J. Edgar.” People usually write what they know, and this is what I know. I’m also a founding member of the [anti-Proposition 8 organization] American Foundation for Equal Rights, so those pieces of me have definitely played a part in that as well.
Q. Let’s talk about Obama endorsing gay marriage, and then the NAACP endorsing it. Do you think that’s influenced people’s opinions?
A. Obama recognizing it publicly was lifesaving, and it came the day after the North Carolina [vote to approve a constitutional ban of same-sex unions], which was hateful and homophobic in my opinion. Because really, who knows the thoughts that go through people’s heads when their state tells them they’re worthy of discrimination. And in terms of the NAACP, that’s extremely important because it’s embracing a group of people that have and continue to suffer from discrimination. I think both of those things have been incredibly lifesaving, but this country still has a ways to go.