His latest project, the TV special series “When We Rise” earns critical praise for its portrait of the Gay Rights movement.
LOS ANGELES — Dustin Lance Black is one of today’s most insightful and inspiring filmmakers on the subjects of LGBT rights, gender equality and inter-racial coexistence. He first rose to fame in 2009 when he was awarded an Academy Award for his screenplay to the film Milk. Since then, he has achieved success as a film and television director, playwright, social activist and commercial director on issues related to equality and activism.
His latest work is When We Rise, a luminous four-part ABC television series tracing the history of the gay rights movement from 1972 through 2013. Black created, executive produced, and wrote the script for the 8-hour drama, which interweaves the stories of three San Francisco gay rights activists. He also directed the 2 hour finale which has been lauded as a powerful conclusion to the mini-series. Variety says that the show “shines when it focuses on youth” and called it “resonant.”
Black’s work in the commercial arena, produced in tandem with Los Angeles-based Bully Pictures for major consumer brands, is no less illuminating on topical social issues. For Tylenol, Black directed a commercial featuring a variety of non-traditional couples, one a male couple with a newborn child. “Family isn’t defined by who you love,” concludes the voice-over, “but how.”
“I respond to stories that are impactful, that can help people out,” says Black. “With Tylenol, I thought it furthered the conversation. It’s not just about LGBT families; it’s about a whole slew of families who might be treated differently because they don’t fit a certain mode.”
More ambitious is Black’s work for Coca-Cola, which includes a series of three short films for Latin American markets. Conceived by Pereira & O'Dell, the films center on teenagers facing “crossroads moments” where friendship triumphs over cruelty. The first two films deal with spiteful rumors, broken romances and misunderstandings that are often deeply hurtful to young people. The third film, The Text, centers on the friendship between two Brazilian boys and what happens when one learns that the other is gay.
“I direct these stories because I feel that they can have an impact,” says Black. “Yes, they are selling a product, but you can sell a product while influencing society in positive ways. These are content pieces that are doing that.”
Black sees little difference between his work as a filmmaker and as an activist. “To me, it’s one and the same,” he explains. “Whether you are filing a Supreme Court case or making a film, it’s all about storytelling. If you want to win in court, you need to tell your story well and in an emotionally compelling manner. When you make a film, you do the same thing.”
Coca-Cola “The Text”
“I’m turning a mirror on the societies where these ads appear to show them what is already there but isn’t often discussed or embraced in an open manner,” says Black. “I’m reflecting back the best of what we are.”