Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, two key figures in the fight to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, stopped by The Hollywood Reporter on Friday to discuss how Hollywood played a central role in Wednesday’s historic Supreme Court decision.
The two men share more than a little in common. Both are 39, live in Los Angeles and were raised in the Bible Belt. Black was raised in a strict Mormon household in Texas, while Griffin was born in Hope, Ark., birthplace of President Bill Clinton (who gave him his first big political break). The pair have worked closely together since 2008, with the help of some powerful friends and Republican attorney Ted Olson, to mount a sound legal case against Prop 8.
“Make no mistake about it: Prop 8 is gone for a lot of reasons, but one significant reason is that folks in the entertainment community stood up and helped lead the way,” Griffin tells THR. “Once Lance and I joined together, we had Rob and Michele Reiner who wrote that first check to help us do the research, people like [Frankenweenie screenwriter and husband] John and Michael August, J.J. and Katie Abrams and Norman and Lyn Lear.”
The campaign kicked into high gear after a lunch in November 2008 with (gay) entertainment mogul David Geffen, who committed $1.5 million on the spot, and who later encouraged his (straight) friend Steve Bing to match it. “That $3 million allowed us to move forward to execute this case with as close to perfection as possible,” Griffin says.
Black, who says he barely slept before Wednesday morning’s announcement, sees this as much more than an isolated legal victory: “Not only did we have a win at the Supreme Court, we had a win culturally,” he explains. “It happens because hearts are changed by stories being told. It’s why this town is so critical to the civil rights movement, because we are the storytellers.”
Black has parlayed the success of his 2008 biopic of Harvey Milk, widely recognized as the father of the gay rights movement, into a busy screenwriting career. His adaptation of Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer‘s disturbing book about a grisly double murder within the Mormon church, is scheduled to start filming in spring 2014 with Ron Howard attached to direct. And then there’s his reimagining of a 1970s disaster classic for one of Hollywood’s most powerful creative forces.
“I was fortunate that the script I had due this week was for J.J. Abrams, who was one of the great supporters of our case,” Black laughs. “Because I was like, ‘Buddy, there’s no way I’m getting any work done on Tuesday or Wednesday as we wait for this decision to come down.’ But I did yesterday have to shut off all the phones, take a deep breath and finally hit send on my first draft of Earthquake.”
In the meantime, California is readying for a seismic shift of a different kind: Late Friday afternoon, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay on Prop 8, immediately clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume.