Dustin Lance Black Brightens Our Nation’s Future
Through His Life and Work
Recently, I came across a video series in which Tylenol sponsored. The series, called #HowWeFamily, offers a variety of views on what families actually look like today. Each portrayal was inspirational, touching, and remarkably well-done. You could feel the love, that arose from every one of the participants, jump through the screen and grab your own heart, as if to say “This is truly what family is all about.”
Provoked by the strong emotion I experienced after viewing each of these videos, I did a bit of digging to find out who the director of this series was. Little wonder the name in which I came upon was none other than Dustin Lance Black. The word “gifted” barely touches the surface of the enormous talent Dustin has displayed throughout his career as an award-winning director and screenplay writer. And yet, Dustin refuses to adopt anything but a certain humbleness that continues to shine through in his work and life.
Struck was I when I spoke with him regarding this series and more, Dustin’s mixture of humor, clarity, and vast intellect kept astonishing me as he answered each one of my questions. His grounded demeanor made the time I spent speaking with him fly by. Honestly, I felt like I was chatting with my brother.
Most astounding to me was how rare it is to find such 'common sense' spoken with equal eloquence, insight, and selflessness. He’s someone that will have you rooting for him at the conclusion of learning more about him and praying that more people like him find their way into this world...because the world would be a much better place if that happened.
If you haven’t already, I urge you to get to know his work and him through (and beyond) the interview below. Dustin Lance Black is a remarkable gentleman whose impact has only just begun.
Share with us your personal mantra.
It comes from my mother, “If you are going to do it, do it right.”
You’ve been highly successful as both an activist and a storyteller. In your opinion, what specifically has compelled you to become a larger voice in both arenas, separately and together?
Both utilize the same toolbox - personal storytelling. That’s what changes people’s hearts and minds.
What has been your favorite project thus far? Why?
“Milk” certainly was my dream project. After viewing a number of versions of the remarkable story of Harvey Milk, I felt that more needed to be done to capture his life and relay its significance to our lives. My heart and soul went into that screenplay. The message of Milk was a life saving message and a great honor to be able to do.
What’s been your most surprising moment, personally or professionally?
Despite the fact that I was fighting so hard for 'marriage equality,' I gave up on ever getting married, myself. Then I met Tom Daley. That was a surprise that changed my life and brought to my reality both an upcoming marriage and the satisfaction of knowing that I, too, would benefit from the rights recently won.
What’s been your largest disappointment?
I grew up with a mom who was paralyzed by Polio. Despite this, she overcame her obstacles and had three kids. My mom’s remarkable perseverance taught me that, “There are no disappointments in life, only setbacks.”
Who is someone you would like to work with that have yet to do?
I love to work with strong, female leads. Jennifer Lawrence is the first woman, in this regard, who comes to mind. She has an incredible range and authenticity. There’s a long list behind her, though.
You state that storytelling is one significant way to enact change. But what of those who don’t want to view or hear your stories? How do you suggest we get these individuals to see the light?
We have to speak to them in the venues where they might listen, which includes their own livingrooms. Recently, ABC has provided me with the opportunity to do just that through a new mini-series that connects a variety of “rights” movements so as to explain the importance of all rights.
You’ve noted how tough growing up Mormon was on you. Do you feel there are any advantages to religion in our culture? Explain.
Yes, these days religion has become such a divisive issue. I still value the lessons I learned about family and unity from the church I grew up in. It is hard to feel strong and powerful through isolation. Faith keeps people from feeling isolated. Other types or organizations do too but faith, historically, has provided a place of “coming together.”
Are you close with your parents?
Sadly, I lost my mom last year. We were very close. I have a wonderful step-father in Washington D.C. and a younger brother who lives in Austin, Texas. My biological father left when I was very young and my older brother passed away from Cancer.
As an artist, we all have that “pinnacle project” in our heads. What is yours?
I’m in the middle of it right now. It is the eight hour mini-series on ABC that I mentioned earlier. At the center of it is the importance of all rights. There is such an enormous drive for change among our nation’s culture in this regard. I’m hoping to add further support and increased clarity for all of those in the midst of it and all those who have yet to understand it through this mini-series.
If you could only have one wish in your lifetime, what would that be?
I would wish for twenty more wishes.
You are so good at so many things; share one thing that you are terrible at?
I always thought that I was a really good dancer. I’ve recently found out that I’m not. Regardless, I’m never going to stop dancing. That’s a promise!
You are newly engaged. Have you set the wedding date?
Not yet. We have to wait until after the Olympics in Rio.
What makes your fiance, Olympic diver 'Tom Daley,' your perfect match?
How incredibly different we are from each other. I’ve learned that having too much in common is boring. Tom and I have the right things in common, but we vary enough where it keeps it interesting. I’m always excited to hear what Tom has to say next. I know we will never get tired of each other. Plus, Tom’s damn cute.
If you had not been a storyteller, what would you have become?
When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone who moved the needle -- “Who helped bend the arc of history towards justice” as Martin Luther King Jr. said.
I have a feeling that Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of Dustin Lance Black. The torch that has been passed along to this young man will, undoubtedly, change the future. Dustin is made for doing so and this truth is the only thing that will remain unchanged at the end of Dustin’s career and life. Mark my words.
Thank you Dustin Lance Black and team for making this interview possible.