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Black, Dustin Lance (b. 1974)  
 
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In 2006, Black joined the staff of HBO's series about a polygamous Mormon family, Big Love. From 2006 to 2009, he wrote 15 episodes of the show and co-produced six episodes in 2009. The only Mormon-raised writer on the show, Black drew on his childhood experiences to add authenticity to the story of a man with three wives and many children.

The Golden Globe-nominated series was created by professional and romantic partners, Marc V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, who have mentored Black. "They walked me through the ins and outs of the TV world," he says, adding "They were very much like parents to me."

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Among other older gay men who have mentored Black is director and producer Paris Barclay, who took him under his wing after reading one of the younger man's scripts in the late 1990s. "Paris was one of the first people to encourage me to write," Black says.

In 2003, Black and Barclay developed a story about Pedro Zamora, best known as the first openly gay, HIV-positive cast member of The Real World, which aired in 1994 and was set in San Francisco. Black's screenplay delves deeply into the life of Zamora, including his relationships with his close-knit Cuban family and his African-American partner Sean Sasser. It was finally brought to the screen as a 90-minute MTV movie in 2009 produced by Barclay and directed by Nick Oceano.

Black has explained that he immediately seized the opportunity to write a screenplay about Zamora because "he was one of the first out gay role models ever to grace mainstream TV. I was still in the closet then, but I never missed an episode."

He continued, "In 1994, there were few HIV/AIDS treatment options, and little hope. Those who tested positive generally hid and eventually vanished. But when Pedro was diagnosed as a teenager, he willfully opened himself up to scathing, bigoted attacks in order to share his story. . . . To many of us, he was one of the few examples of a gay person living openly and with pride."

Another gay role model who inspired Black was Harvey Milk, whose story he had been interested in telling for many years before he actually wrote the screenplay that made him famous. Indeed, as a teenager he heard a recording of a speech by Milk, which, he says, made a profound impression on him, convincing him that he was loved. "From the grave, over a decade after his assassination, Harvey gave me life . . . he gave me hope."

At UCLA, Black saw Rob Epstein and Richard Schmeichen's Academy Award-winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), and thought then that the story would make an excellent feature film. As he told the Bay Area Reporter, "when I first saw a copy of the documentary, I remember just breaking down into tears. I thought, 'I just want to do something with this, why hasn't someone done something with this?'"

Among the obstacles Black faced in marketing his screenplay, which he wrote without a contract, was that plans for a Milk biopic had been underway for years, but the projects had always stalled for various reasons. Black first approached Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the prolific producers who had long held the rights to Randy Shilts's biography of Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street. When they declined his offer to write a script based on the Shilts book, he decided to write one based on his own research.

Black began by interviewing Milk's surviving friends and colleagues, including especially Milk's assistant Cleve Jones, his campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, and former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos.

He and Jones became good friends, and Jones put him in touch with others who had been active in the 1970s. As Jones, the founder of the Names Project, commented, "He didn't dismiss us as dinosaurs. That was a big part of getting everyone to open up. People shared stories with him that they had stopped talking about years ago."

Jones introduced Black to his friend director Gus Van Sant, who remembered the writer's reality movie, On the Bus. Impressed with Black's screenplay, Van Sant agreed to direct it and also persuaded Sean Penn to star in it.

Although film is a director's medium rather than a writer's, Milk is nevertheless very much Black's film. He collaborated with Van Sant on every aspect of the movie and received credit as executive producer as well as screenwriter.

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