"Milk" screenwriter straddles two clashing worlds

Thu Jan 22, 2009 5:58pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Oscar-nominated screenwriter of "Milk," about one of America's first openly gay elected officials, says he first heard of Harvey Milk as a closeted gay teenager who grew up a devout Mormon in Texas.

By then, about 10 years had passed since Milk, the charismatic San Francisco gay activist and politician, had been shot and killed, but Dustin Lance Black said Milk's story struck him as a personal inspiration.

"It gave me a lot of hope and allowed me to start growing again," said Black after "Milk" -- his first produced feature film script -- was nominated on Thursday for an Academy Award as best original screenplay.

The movie collected eight Oscar nominations in all, including one for best picture.

Gus Van Sant was nominated as best director, Sean Penn as best actor for his portrait of Milk, and Josh Brolin as best supporting actor for playing Milk's assassin, Dan White. The Oscars are to be handed out on February 22.

Black learned of Milk, and his campaign to empower San Francisco's gay community, from a local theater director after moving with his family to the Bay area from Texas at age 13. At that point, Black said, he was still repressed about his sexuality.

"I really feel like (Milk) kind of saved me in a way," said Black, 34, now a writer and co-producer on the HBO television series "Big Love," about a polygamist living under the radar with three wives in suburban Salt Lake City.

Years later, in 2004, Black met gay activist Cleve Jones, a close pal of Milk who introduced him to their old circle of friends from San Francisco's Castro district, launching Black on his quest to tell Milk's story on screen.   Continued...

<p>Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black arrives for the world premiere of the film "Milk" at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco October 28, 2008 REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>