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Dustin Lance Black: Time is now for “Milk” scribe

Dustin Lance Black couldn’t have announced his arrival as a player in the feature biz if he’d worn a Dustinlanceblackwga sandwich board to the Writers Guild Awards.

The “Milk” scribe brought the award-season jaded crowd at the Century Plaza to its feet with his heartfelt call for the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community to think “beyond Prop. 8” and demand that the federal government enact legislation affirming their equal protection under the law on a scale of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Black (who says he generally drops Dustin and goes by Lance) may not quite be old enough to run for president (he was 4 when Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1978), but he knows his history. And he knows his showbiz history. He got a laugh in accepting his first award of the night by noting that “Milk” wasn’t “the easiest subject matter to get produced. If you hadn’t noticed — it’s pretty gay…and it’s political.”

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s should be a template for the gay community — and now is the hour for activism, Black says, noting how many thousands of people took to the streets of L.A. in November after California voters approved Prop. 8’s same-sex marriage ban. It is painfully ironic to Black that the anti-Prop. 8 campaign failed to heed Milk’s example by de-emphasizing the gay rights factor, instead of making that the central issue. He knows whereof he speaks, having grown up as a self-described “closeted kid” in a devoutly Mormon, military family in San Antonio, Texas. (No question why he became a writer on HBO’s “Big Love.”)

Black’s life changed when his family moved to the Bay Area when he was a teen after his stepfather was transferred.

“I think America does love gay and lesbian people – a lot of them just haven’t met us yet,” Black said backstage, channeling his movie subject as he held a trophy in each hand. “A lot of us are invisible. We need to come out of this invisibility, we need to let people know that we’re your aunts and uncles, your teachers and your truck drivers. This is not just about marriage.”

As for his next moves on screen, Black is looking forward to putting his docu helming experience to the test with his feature directing debut on “What’s Wrong with Virginia.” Liam Neeson has signed on to the project alongside Jennifer Connelly. No distrib yet, but Christine Vachon and Eric Watson are on board as producers. Black is also adapting “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” for “Milk” helmer Gus Van Sant, and he has something percolating at Universal, but it’s not ready for “talking about yet,” he said, just before his team of CAA reps and praiser Lee Ginsberg of PMK/HBH gently pulled him out of the press room.

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