Making a Play to Beat Back Prop 8
An Oscar-winning screenwriter has high hopes that his hot-ticket show will raise awareness about the ramifications of Proposition 8
More than two years ago, Dustin Lance Black sat on a wooden bench in a federal courtroom in San Francisco alongside a flock of prominent conservatives as they heard arguments in favor of Proposition 8, the state ballot initiative that eliminated the right of gays and lesbians to marry. Black, who had recently won a screenwriting Oscar for Milk, was fuming, and not just because he felt he was witnessing an act of hypocrisy; he was also watching an opportunity squandered: The U.S. Supreme Court had just overruled a federal judge’s decision to allow the trial to be broadcast, and Black felt that a rare moment to reach the nation on gay rights had been lost.
So he wrote 8, a drama about the case, using court transcripts as well as interviews with key participants. “There were beautiful moments at trial that I wanted to bring to life,” he says, “and a lot of lies and myths that I wanted to dispel.” It was probably easier to get a seat in the courtroom than it will be to score one at a reading of the play on March 3 at the Wilshire Ebell Theater. George Clooney portrays the attorney who corepresented two gay couples, Jane Lynch appears as the anti-gay marriage activist Maggie Gallagher, and Rob Reiner, Matthew Morrison, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson round out the cast. (A reading last fall in New York starred John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, and Morgan Freeman.)
IN FEBRUARY the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over- turned a 2010 decision that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The case could end up in the Supreme Court. In the meantime Black, whose latest film is J. Edgar, intends to pour revenue from the event toward future performances—40 in all—around the country. Currently only seven states allow gay marriage. “When you deny gay people the right to marry,” says Black, “you’re robbing them of their self-worth.”
Illustration by Joe Zeff