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Topics In the News
Premiere of 8; Judge Rules that Video of Prop 8 Trial Should be Released
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/19/11
Last updated on: 09/20/11
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Dustin Lance Black.

On September 19, U.S. District Judge James Ware ruled that the video recording of the Proposition 8 trial should be unsealed and made available to the public. The ruling came on the day that Dustin Lance Black's play 8, based on transcripts of the Prop 8 trial, premiered on Broadway in a one-performance-only staged reading to benefit the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization formed in order to support the lawsuit seeking to have Proposition 8 nullified as unconstitutional.

Judge Ware concluded that "no compelling reasons exist for continued sealing of the digital recording of the trial." He rejected all the arguments made by the proponents of Proposition 8 to maintain the seal, including the contention that "public dissemination of the [digital recording] could have a chilling effect on . . . expert witnesses" willingness "to cooperate in any future proceeding."

Judge Ware stayed his order to release the video recording of the trial until September 30 to allow the proponents of Proposition 8 to appeal the ruling. They almost certainly will do so, and the issue may be tied up in court for years before it is finally decided.

Black, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay of Gus Van Sant's Milk, decided to dramatize the Proposition 8 trial precisely because the proponents of Proposition 8 have been so determined to prevent the video recording from being released.

He told the Associated Press that the trial "was the first time I've ever seen our case argued by the most capable lawyers in the world, in a court of law where the other side had to raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth. . . . It killed me to think that this would only live inside this courtroom for the dozens to see and not the country to see, and I think it killed all of us in the room. We immediately started trying to figure out, 'How do we get this truth out there?'"

In addition to the transcripts, Black used his firsthand observations of the trial and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families to craft the script for the play.

The staged reading on September 19 featured a star-studded cast, including Ellen Barkin, Matt Bomer, Morgan Freeman, Cheyenne Jackson, Larry Kramer, Christine Lahti, John Lithgow, Rob Reiner, Kate Shindle, Stephen Spinella, and Bradley Whitford. It was directed by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantello.

Following the September 19 performance, the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Broadway Impact will license 8 to schools and community organizations nationwide in order to educate the general public about the Proposition 8 trial.

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