Dustin Lance Black was only days into his research for “Milk” when he heard the story about gay activist Cleve Jones’ first meeting with San Francisco’s newly elected city supervisor Harvey Milk. Milk scolded Jones for putting on a jacket and tie. “Never blend in,” Milk said.
That became a mantra for Black, who says, “I ran with that both in Harvey’s character and with the movement.” Both are portrayed as unabashedly gay, with no effort to minimize the differences that implies.
He is grateful that helmer Gus Van Sant had the same goal: “If you’re going to show the Castro, show it for what it is, and show these people for who they were; don’t try to straighten them up.”
Black focused on the 1978 struggle over Proposition 6, which forbade housing and employment discrimination against gays, because he heard the same antigay arguments still being made today. But he had no way to know that another antigay-rights initiative, Prop. 8, would be on the ballot this year as the film neared release.
“It’s the same conversation,” he says with dismay. “They use the children. It’s the same talking points and the same archetypal people to argue the talking points,” he says.