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Black, Dustin Lance (b. 1974)  
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Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black has quickly established himself as both an accomplished filmmaker and a committed activist. His Oscar-winning screenplay for Gus Van Sant's biographical film, Milk (2008), based on the life of martyred gay politician Harvey Milk, not only deftly captures the spirit of the gay rights movement in 1970s San Francisco but also offers an affecting portrait of a remarkable, highly idiosyncratic, individual.

Black was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1974 into a Mormon household. His father had been a missionary when he met Black's mother and converted her. Black spent his early years in San Antonio, where his father abandoned his family, leaving Black's mother to raise their two sons on her own.

Black remembers these as difficult and painful years. "We were welfare kids," he told interviewer Ari Karpel. "My father vanished, literally just took off one day."

Black's mother remarried twice, the second time when he was in his teens, when she relocated the family to California's Central Valley, where his new stepfather was in the army.

The combination of a conservative religious background and a rigid military atmosphere made Black's adolescent years troubled, particularly because he realized quite early that he was gay. He has described his childhood as secretive and fearful. At one point, he considered suicide, so incompatible did he find his sexuality and his family's religious beliefs. As he explained to Karpel, "I became intensely shy, I had thoughts of suicide. I was a pretty dark kid, because I had an acute awareness of my sexuality, and was absolutely convinced that I was wrong."

In an autobiographical essay, Black has described his childhood dilemma: "So I had two choices: to hide--to go on a Mormon mission, to get married and have a small Mormon family (8 to 12 kids)--or to do what I had thought about many a time while daydreaming in Texas history class: take my own life. Thankfully, there weren't enough pills (fun or otherwise) inside my Mormon mother's medicine cabinet, so I pretended and I hid and I cried myself to sleep more Sabbath nights than I care to remember."

Like many other troubled gay adolescents, Black found solace in art and literature, and especially in theater. During high school he began working at The Western Stage in Salinas-Monterey, California, attempting to learn all the theatrical crafts, from acting to lighting. His passion for theater led him to enter UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, from which he graduated with honors in 1996. While at UCLA, he worked at Hollywood's Hudson Main Stage Theater and also came out publicly.

After college, Black found work in film production, first as an art director, and later as director of commercials and music videos. In 1999, he wrote and directed a short gay coming-of-age film, Something Close to Heaven, but his real debut as a maker of feature films came with The Journey of Jared Price (2000), a gay romance that he both wrote and directed.

The extremely low-budget film, shot over a period of five days, tells the story of a small-town Georgia boy who arrives in Hollywood to pursue his dreams and discover himself. The filmmaker has since disowned The Journey of Jared Price, but despite its low production values it nevertheless attracted the notice of critics and marked Black as a talent to be watched.

Black's early practice of immersing himself in all aspects of theater and mastering as many of the theatrical crafts as possible has served him well as a filmmaker. He has not only directed and produced many of his projects, but he has also served as editor and cinematographer on a few, as well as appearing as himself or as a character in some.

In 2001, Black released a documentary that he both directed and appeared in, On the Bus. The film documents the journey of six young gay men to the annual Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. Along the way, the six young men bond with each other and discuss their lives and plans for the future.

In 2002, Black produced and directed another documentary, My Life with Count Dracula, a biography of Dr. Donald A. Reed, the creator and founder of the Count Dracula Society, and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Throughout his life, Reed struggled to gain appreciation for science fiction and horror films by celebrating the work of filmmakers typically ignored by mainstream film societies. The film, which features appearances by directors Bryan Singer and Randal Kleiser, presents Reed in the last years of his life.

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Dustin Lance Black attending the Academy Awards ceremony in 2009. Photograph by Greg Hernandez.
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