Reiner, Black, Riskin and others recognized
Like many of the characters they often create, screenwriters are a diverse bunch, and so are this year’s recipients of the honorary awards given by the Writers Guild of America — with men and women, gays and straights and young and old sharing the accolades.
Two honorees are especially notable on the chronological front this year: 94-year-old Italian scribe Suso D’Amico (“The Bicycle Thief”), receiving the Jean Renoir Award for screenwriting achievement, and 34-year-old Dustin Lance Black (the Oscar- and WGA-nommed screenwriter of “Milk”), given the Paul Selvin Award for embodying the spirit of civil rights.
“It’s a huge honor and a responsibility as well to be representing a people still struggling for civil rights,” says Black, who is genuinely stunned that his first feature should land such a prize. “I’m not saying we did the perfect job, but gays and lesbians have had a devastating year politically, and I think a lot of them have been looking at this movie as a hope.”
While the guild looks forward in awarding Black his honor, it also looks back at its own history by naming Carl Reiner and Victoria Riskin co-recipients of the Valentine Davies Award, given for service to the community at large.
Reiner has earned the honor for his good works aimed primarily at youth, including literacy and musical projects. Riskin — a former WGA West prexy whose father was legendary scribe Robert Riskin, a guild pioneer — gained her nod for ongoing commitments to human rights internationally.
Actively involved in both Human Rights Watch and the Hellman/Hammett Trust, which dispenses funds to persecuted writers throughout the world, Riskin maintains that much of her activist worldview stems from her father’s work.
“Without question, my father shaped all the values I have today,” she says. “I’m sure that my interested in Tibet comes from ‘Lost Horizon’ and the ideals reflected in the film. And the fight for the oppressed or little guy was a major element in scripts by my father like ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’ and ‘Meet John Doe.’ His values very much shaped how I view the world. Film can make a difference in life. I think President Obama is a perfect character out of a Riskin movie, where everyone counts and anyone can make a difference.”
This year’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television goes to William Blinn, best known for penning the epic mini “Roots” and the classic macho tearjerker “Brian’s Song.”
“What he did 50 years ago still holds up today,” Blinn says of the scribe for whom his award is named. “I’m honored to be in his company, except that I’m not in his company, I’m in his shadow — as we all are.”
Other honorees this year include Larry DiTillio, receiving the Morgan Cox Award for service to the guild; Linda Woolverton, receiving the Animation Writing Award for lifetime achievement; playwright John Patrick Shanley, receiving the Ian McLellan Hunter Award for lifetime achievement; Norman Stiles, receiving the Herb Sargent Award for comedy excellence; and Chris Albers and Tom Fontana, receiving the Richard B. Jablow Award for devoted service to the guild.