Exclusive Interview: Dustin Lance Black (and his husband Tom Daley) in Paris!
It was just before their surprise wedding, on May 8th: TÊTU met the director Dustin Lance Black and his fiancé, the diver Tom Daley.
Dustin Lance Black was the surprise guest of the Mania series in Paris. The filmmaker, Oscar winner in 2008 for the screenplay of Harvey Milk , came to defend When We Rise , his mini-series tracing 40 years of LGBT activism in the United States from the early 1970s to the present. On this occasion, TÊTU met exclusively the 42-year-old filmmaker to discuss his series, of course, but also the future of militancy and his next projects. While at her side, her husband, British Olympic diver Tom Daley, was watching …
TÊTU: Your series When We Rise is aimed at an audience that knows nothing about the LGBT movement but about homosexuals, right?
Dustin Lance Black: Together! The show has been designed for a large audience but LGBTQ community members do not know much about their own story! That’s why I said yes to ABC. In recent years, I have received several proposals from other networks to work on similar projects. We would surely have had more money, more time, but in the end we would have preached converts! We would have addressed a public already sensitized. For ABC, it was necessary to build a series that people who are not from the LGBT community are able to understand. That’s why When We Rise does not start with LGBT activism, but with young people who campaign in feminist movements, for peace or for civil rights …
You were not afraid that ABC, Disney’s chain, would water down the series?
DLB: I wanted to work with them! I heard a rumor that they were trying to develop a project around LGBT issues. I asked to meet with the leaders of the chain to see if they were serious. When I realized they were, I told them “I’m going to need a year of research,” which is very long for them. They said “no problem”. It was inspiring because ABC was the only channel I had the right to watch when I was a kid. I grew up in a Southern family: Conservative, Military and Mormon. ABC was the only channel my mother let me watch because it is a family network. This show is the opportunity to touch children who, like me younger, may feel alone in the world. It is even the only reason to do it! You know, Nobody makes money with this kind of project. If you do this job for big checks, go write movies where the guys wear capes!
You started working on When We Rise long before the election of Donald Trump and yet the series resonates terribly with what is happening today in the United States. Or with what could happen in France …
DLB: Or in the UK with the Brexit! (He turns to Tom Daley) It’s your fault Tom, you started this bullshit!
Tom Daley: I know! (Laughter)
DLB: More seriously, I started writing the series four years ago. At that time, we were experiencing a very progressive and exciting time in the United States in the evolution of LGBT rights. And already at the time, I was afraid. Fear because we, the people of diversity, had lost our connection to each other. Yet there was a time when we were all in solidarity. Not only the LGBTQ, but also people who pray for another god, people from other countries, people whose skin color was different, workers … But we ended up dividing. Thunderstruck by our own struggles. We have forgotten that we must also fight for our brothers, for our neighbors, as well as for us. To say that is not politically correct. It’s being smart! If minorities do not work together then we will be easily defeated! My series puts forward several ideas, but one of the most important is that each of us on this planet, in your country as in mine, we are part of a minority. It only depends on how you divide the cake. What you can snatch from your neighbor, you can get him out tomorrow. No one is a majority. This is what When We Rise is talking about , though it is seen by the LGBTQ prism in the United States, but we can also make a comparison with the struggles of diversity here in France or England. We are part of a minority. It only depends on how you divide the cake. What you can snatch from your neighbor, you can get him out tomorrow. No one is a majority. This is what When We Rise is talking about , though it is seen by the LGBTQ prism in the United States, but we can also make a comparison with the struggles of diversity here in France or England. We are part of a minority. It only depends on how you divide the cake. What you can snatch from your neighbor, you can get him out tomorrow. No one is a majority. This is what When We Rise is talking about , though it is seen by the LGBTQ prism in the United States, but we can also make a comparison with the struggles of diversity here in France or England.
Condensing 40 years of LGBT history in 7 episodes is a real challenge …
DLB: And if we remove the ads, there is only 6 hours of program! I have a lot of rushes, maybe one day I would make a director’s cut! (Laughs) But there are tricks to get by. The first is to be very strategic and very determined on the story we want to tell. The challenge is not to tell the life of every person in the LGBT movement, only a handful of them who created a family in San Francisco to survive homophobia. It is their history, their perceptual. There are other LGBTQ heroes whose lives have not yet been told, many struggles that have never been described. I heard the frustrations of LGBT people telling me “you have not talked about this person! From this place ! Of this struggle! Instead of annoying me, it made me very happy. I said to myself, "Okay, I laid a frame, your turn to tell these lives! People begin to understand the power of history. This is something we have not had so far in the LGBT movement: a popularized and easily accessible story.
Can we see your series as a response to Stonewall , the film by Roland Emmerich, to whom many have criticized taking too much freedom with the reality of the riots in New York?
DLB: Let me tell you one thing: Roland is my friend. He has donated a lot of money to a number of causes, particularly in favor of LGBTQ youth in Los Angeles. He saved heaps of lives and I love him. So I may not be the right person to ask this question … He made me read a version of his script and I told him what I thought. When I was researching When We Rise , I had interviewed Stonewall survivors. Two have since died. I sent the recordings to him and said, "These interviews are yours. You can do whatever you want. In a way, I see how he got closer to what I sent him but I also see how he got away from it … But in the end, it’s his film. I often tell my film students, When it comes to writing about a true story: each filmmaker must decide how much he wants to twist the truth before filming. I want to twist it as little as possible.
Is that why you want the activists whose lives you depict to be consultants on the series?
DLB: I try, as far as possible, to interview myself the people who have lived the things I want to tell. I do not like to rely on books or interviews. Interviews are often edited and a book is always the point of view of its author. When I write, I want to come closer to the truth to create an essential story. For opponents of equality will always try to say: "None of this has happened! And I refuse to give them that power. Even before the series was broadcast, American ultra-conservatives were already saying "this is all wrong! I was able to answer them: "The people who have lived through these events are there to tell you that everything is true. You will not snatch our history from us! ”
You wrote Harvey Milk , J. Edgar , Part 8 , Now When We Rise … Are you the one-man man: LGBT history?
DLB: I started as a screenwriter for series like Big Love , where I was mainly talking about my Mormon education. I’ve also produced, Prophet’s Prey , a documentary about the Mormon Church and I will soon begin a mini series with Ron Howard, Under the banner of Heaven . This is another side of me, which has nothing to do with my homosexuality but it remains related to my experience. To be an artist is to be endowed with a history. The more complicated the better! (Laughs) And the more one puts oneself in a narrative, the more it becomes universal. For example, at this time,
Why are you looking at Tom?
DLB: Because Tom is the symbol of romance! (he smiles)
TD: And I’m the star of his film!
DLB: Do not say that, it’s going to make the front page of all the English tabloids! I would like to make this film next fall. And I also work on a biopic by Byron Rustin (a close adviser to Martin Luther King), who was also gay, for HBO. There is so much to tell because LGBT history has been buried for so long. Women’s movements or for racial equality have had the right to films! And it gives people inspiration. Thanks to them, they feel less isolated. All this work has not taken place on LGBT history. Forty years ago, in the United States, you were at risk of electroshock, lobotomy or prison treatment just for writing this story. We lost time because at the time, to do what I do today, the price to pay was too high. And if my mission is to rectify that,
When We Rise episodes are available on Canal Plus Series