Awards show or political rally? A bit of both, and the better for it.
Dustin Lance Black may be a new face in Hollywood, but he showed at the WGA West Awards tonight that he knows what to do with a podium and unlimited time to give an acceptance speech. The kudofest wasn't televised, after all, so there were no producers looking anxiously at the clock and doing that slashing motion across their necks. Just a captive audience and no orchestra to strike up the musical good-bye.
Black, who won one of the night's top honors for his original screenplay for "Milk," also picked up the Paul Selvin Award for work "that embodies the spirit of constitutional right and civil liberties."
His speech, emotionally delivered and punctuated by a standing ovation from the assembled industryites, had a strong anti-Prop 8 message: No more of this state-by-state stuff. If there are ever to be equal rights for the gay community, he said, it will have to come from the federal level.
He asked his fellow writers to join him in advocating for federal protection, not just for gays but for all groups that face discrimination. "We still have a long way to go for equal rights for everyone in this country."
He wasn't surprised, he said, that Prop 8 passed in California because the opposition campaign didn't humanize the issue. It failed to follow that famous Harvey Milk mantra about being loud and proud, showing the haters that gay and lesbians are their neighbors, colleagues and friends.
Black, who grew up in a Mormon, military family in Texas, said he was taught that gay meant "evil and sick and wrong" and said the story of slain gay activist and San Francisco political leader Harvey Milk was the first he'd ever heard of a gay hero. That's why he devoted himself to writing "Milk," "as a spec script," without knowing if he'd ever see it made into a feature.
The drama is nominated for an Oscar, as is its star Sean Penn, and Black has a nod for his screenplay (he's the Gold Rush favorite).
The other standing ovation of the night went to TV and film legend Carl Reiner, whose decades of community service and social activism look completely au courant in the Age of Obama. He took home the Valentine Davies Award for his work on pet projects like children's literacy and the Big Brothers of America.