Milk scripter Dustin Lance Black, 34, tearfully accepted the Writers Guild Award for best original screenplay for Milk Saturday night by calling up the ghost of slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, the man who inspired Black when he moved to the Bay Area from San Antonio, Texas as a closeted gay 13-year-old. “I want to thank God for making my dreams come true,” said Black, who was raised a Mormon, “and for giving us Harvey Milk.”
Here are all the WGA winners, including non-attendee Simon Beaufoy, who won for Slumdog Millionaire’s adapted screenplay, and Ari Folman, for the animated documentary Waltz with Bashir, which is on track to win the best foreign film Oscar.
Black had earlier accepted the WGA’s Paul Selvin Civil Rights award. “This is a spec script,” he told the writers. “It wasn’t the easiest subject matter to pursue; it’s pretty gay. Why would I spend five years with this Harvey Milk guy? It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had. His message of hope allowed me to dream, and to heal.”
Black exhorted the gay community to learn from Milk’s message: “Be proud, represent yourself, reach out,” he said. He criticized the anti-prop 8 organizers for not pursuing outreach and education, of not following Milk’s model of grassroots activism. When he told Cleve Jones, the character played by Emile Hirsch in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, that he was getting the Selvin award, Jones told him, “Civil rights? We don’t have them, and we want them.” Black quoted Milk, who said, “If they demand the real thing, I find, they can get it.”
Now is the time to think big, said Black, who asked the federal government to follow the model of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ensure equal rights to GLBT people. “It’s bigger than 8,” he said. “Harvey Milk and the movies inspire people to dream big. That’s how change really happens.”
As far as the Academy Award voting goes, while Beaufoy will likely repeat his win, Black is competing with a rival, Wall-E writer-director Andrew Stanton (animated films are not eligible for WGA awards). Ballots are due on February 17; the Oscarcast is on February 22.
Accepting his long form original award for Recount, Danny Strong thanked playwright David Hare, whose play Stuff Happens inspired him to try and “write something like that,” said Strong, who thought up the idea for Recount on the way to his car.
Two old lions energized the evening. Carl Reiner, 86, told a story about trying to find bratwurst for a dinner for visiting French director Jean Renoir. Reiner wanted to call Billy Wilder to ask him where to get it, but refrained because he knew Wilder, who hadn’t been working, might think he was calling with a job. Reiner ran into Wilder later and told him he almost called. “I’m glad you didn’t,” said Wilder. “I would have thought it was about work, gotten all excited, and fucked my wife for no reason.”
William Blinn, accepting the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for television for such shows as Brian’s Song, Roots and the TV series Fame and Starsky & Hutch, got tough with the younger writers in the room. “Get off your asses and work!” he told them. “More careers have been derailed by self-absorption and self-pity in this town than anything injected, snorted or inhaled. Understand how goddamned lucky you are to be making a living that 95% of the people in this world envy.”