COLUMBIA — Dustin Lance Black was in high school in 1988 when he heard about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California. Black said that at that point, he had never heard of an out gay man before, joking his first thought was that Milk must have been bad at hiding it.
Black, who won an Academy Award this year for best original screenplay for "Milk," spoke at MU on Sunday evening. The movie, starring Sean Penn, recounts Milk's election in 1977 to the board of supervisors in San Francisco and his murder by fellow supervisor Dan White. Penn won an Oscar for best actor.
Black's speech at MU included some serious and not-so-serious topics that seemed to engage the mostly student crowd. Full and equal federal rights should be the goal, he told them, and not the current "bit-by-bit civil rights."
“This is the civil rights fight of your generation," Black said. "This is the civil rights fight of the 21st century.”
Black grew up in a devout Mormon, military family where he learned how to hide and disappear because if his homosexuality was found out, he would be thrown in with the “sinners and the rapists.”
“I knew from the age of 6 what people would think if they knew my secret,” Black said.
Cody Davis, a staff member at MU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center and an executive board member of the Triangle Coalition, an LGBT student organization, said he enjoyed Black’s speech and hoped people would become motivated.
“His ideas, his strategies were really relevant and felt very easy to achieve,” MU student Crystal Rosemann said.
After his speech, Black took some time to answer audience questions. He said the toughest part of writing the “Milk” script was having to fictionalize the time line, which forced him to merge some of the people in Harvey’s life into a single character.
Black said he was happy with the casting of the film — and yes, James Franco is that cute in real life. The plan had originally been to cast openly gay actors in the gay roles but the majority of gay actors are closeted, he said.
Black thinks one of the biggest problems in the LGBT community is lack of visibility, and the media overall doesn't provide diverse enough coverage.
He used California’s Proposition 8, a law passed in November that bans same-sex marriage, as an example. He thinks that the LGBT community was not represented well enough in the advertisements against Prop 8 and that its opponents were too complacent and acted ineffectively.
Black said he wished that “Milk” had come out in May rather than November, because perhaps Milk’s story would have inspired young people to advocate more. He quoted civil rights activist Julian Bond: “Good things do not come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate.”