THE TAB MEETS: Dustin Lance Black
“It’s up to us to make sure Donald Trump is the last gasp of a dying dinosaur”
Nearly a year to the day since Donald Trump won the Presidency, the Tab spoke to Dustin Lance Black, acclaimed screenwriter and LGBT+ icon, on the importance of storytelling in the fight against Trumpian social values.
Black's early childhood, however, is more akin to those who follow Trump's philosophies than those who might reject them. Born to a Mormon, military family in deep Texas, Black struggled with his sexuality from a young age, often consumed by dark, suicidal thoughts. It was Harvey Milk, the openly gay American politician, who first inspired Black to think that life as a gay man "had the potential for love and success." Angered that his story consequently "had been lost" to history, Black supplied the screenplay for the 2008 biopic Milk, for which he won an academy award.
Black's latest project, TV miniseries When We Rise, is even more personal, ambitious, and necessary. Charting 45 years of American LGBT history, and starring Guy Pearce and Mary-Louise Parker, When We Rise certainly packs a powerful punch. Scenes from the Aids Crisis, instances of homophobic violence, and enduring images of resistance provide an emotional, often heartbreaking reminder of all that LGBT advocates and allies have fought for, and all that we still need to defend.
Indeed, Black asserts that storytelling and its ability to "change hearts" is ultimately more useful in fighting for the rights of minorities than solely changing laws and legislation. Part of the motivation for the series was grounded in Black's belief, and disappointment, that "we are back in a period now where we could heed the lessons of Harvey Milk and other again." That which underpins all Black's works, as well as his activity as an LGBT activist, is his belief that "telling stories is one of the most potent skills in changing culture because it starts with changing hearts."
"If you want to change a mind," he continued, "you have to change hearts." So how do we change hearts and minds in 2017? How do we ensure that, after 2020, we can leave Donald Trump in the past? Well that, Black, concludes is our duty: "It's up to us to make sure that Donald Trump and his administration is the last gasp of a dying dinosaur … the last cry of a very vocal minority." Celebrating, not attacking, our differences is also key to this – they should be a source of unity, not conflict. Black discussed a watershed moment in his childhood which, with later life reflection, has confirmed this. When a Jewish playmate, his only friend, revealed to him his religion, Black, taking influence from his Mormon upbringing, had attempted to reconcile their religious differences by attempting to convert him. He wishes then he had known the power of differences, that he and his friend might have united in their shared identities as minorities. He would only learn the lesson of the power of a "brotherhood of differences" in adulthood, yet it remains one he believes is crucial to continued efforts to advocate for the rights of minorities.
"Humanity is sick," Black concluded on Trump and the rise of social conservatism, again stressing that the power to remedy this lies in our hands. It is thus our duty to harness our creative talents, skills, and abilities to preserve and protect our differences, for ultimately we are better for them.