Should Dustin Lance Black win an Emmy for “When We Rise,” ABC’s eight-hour anthology chronicling the gay rights movement, watch out for his acceptance speech.
Back in 2009, when he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his work on “Milk,” the then-35-year old relative newbie had Hollywood — and every gay person watching around the globe — in tears.
“If Harvey [Milk] had not been taken from us 30 years ago,” Black told the audience at the Kodak theater, “he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches or by the government or by their families that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures… I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours.”
Black’s emotional speech struck such a chord with the gay community, GLAAD, the nation’s largest LGBT media watchdog, posted it on its site.
“Milk’s screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, just gave the most incredible acceptance speech after being awarded Best Original Screenplay tonight at the Academy Awards,” the advocacy group wrote, “glaadBLOG is proud to present it here in its entirety.”
Eight years later, Black could be looking at another watershed speech. “When We Rise” marks the first time 50 years of LGBT history have been prominently told on a major broadcast network.
Only this time, he’d be delivering it to a starkly different world. As Black predicted, same-sex marriage is the law of the land; Black is married to Olympic diver Tom Daley; And Donald Trump is now president, a fact that has LGBT activists shifting into overdrive.
“If I’m fortunate enough to get up there, I need to thank the real-life people this is based on,” Black told TheWrap. “This is based on true stories of folks who fought their entire lives for social justice.”
Black’s mini-series — aired over four nights this past February — follows the stories of LGBT activists Cleve Jones (Guy Pearce), Ken Jones (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Roma Guy (Mary-Louise Parker), starting with the gay liberation movement’s early battles with police in the 1970s through the historic same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.
The show was supposed to be a sort of “victory lap” for the LGBT community. But instead, it landed in the Trump era, just as the newly-elected president was picking his cabinet members — a majority of whom have been accused of being anti-gay.
Trump’s unexpected win forced many community activists — including the ones featured in Black’s series — back to the drawing board, as they try to stop the fledgling administration from rolling back many of their hard-earned gains.
“I thank them for the example that they’ve set,” Black said of his protagonists, “for teaching us that the most important part of progress isn’t ‘me’ or ‘I.’ It is ‘we.’ It is ‘When We Rise.’ So, I want to thank them, our we.”
Then, just like that, he channels the young man on that Oscar stage eight years ago.
“I want to thank them for continuing to lead,” he said. “Because what’s happening is literally, and I don’t know how they’re handling it, thousands and thousands of young people are reaching out to them for guidance. And their not shrinking from that challenge.”
If Black gets nominated and then goes on to win, have a box of Kleenex nearby. You’re going to need it.