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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  August 15, 2017 12:30am-1:01am BST

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north korean leader kimjong—un has been briefed on a plan to fire missiles near guam. north korea's state agency is reporting that the leader says discussions with military are under way for a potential strike on the island which is home to us air and naval bases. hundreds of people are feared dead after a mudslide near sierra leone's capital, freetown. a hillside collapsed following heavy rains, engulfing many homes. and this story is trending on a verdict has been reached in the court case between an american dj and the us singer taylor swift. jurors in federal court in denver agreed that david mueller had groped the singer at an event in 2013. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk and another chance to see stephen sackur‘s interview with the screenwriter dustin lance black. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. it's 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in britain.
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in those 50 years, the campaign for lgbt rights has won landmark victories in many parts of the world, perhaps best symbolised by the normalisation of gay marriage in a host of countries. my guest today is american filmmaker and screenwriter dustin lance black, who won an oscar for the film milk and has just completed a major series on the struggle for gay rights. has the time come to declare a famous victory? dustin lance black, welcome to hardtalk.
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thank you. thank you for having me. to what extent do you think that your experiences from childhood to now as a gay person have come to define your creative output? oh, boy. it's one of the many things about me that does define me creatively. certainly, when i'm teaching my students — because i teach some classes in screenwriting sometimes — and i say to them, tell me about you, what is it about you that's unique, where do you come from, what are you interested in, tell me about your parents, your background, these are the things that make you incredibly unique. and those things that make you unique could actually make you marketable in the competitive film business, because they give you that unique voice. i always encourage them to look at your own voice and the core of who you are, because it can make you marketable and you can succeed.
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i think far too often writers and filmmakers try to go for what's profitable, what's hot at the moment. and the truth of that is you're going to get your butt kicked in the end because someone else is going to be very passionate about that subject. so, at the core of you and your, sort of, self identity, being gay is a really important part of that? sure, being gay is a big part of that, because that has a connection to love, and who i love, and who i spend my life with, and the family that i am going to build. but also where i grew up in the united states probably formed who i am. so, growing up in the south in a very conservative atmosphere, growing up in the military and understanding what that meant. but the two are woven together, in a sense, because, i think it is right to say, that you had an awareness of being different and of being gay, whether you put it that way yourself or not, you had an awareness that you were different very early in your childhood. 0h, sure. and that was something that, in the community you came from,
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the religion you were born into, that was tough. you mean with the mormons? yeah. your mum was a pretty observant mormon, wasn't she? my mum, my father, my father's entire side of the family were very devout mormon. i was a very devout mormon growing up. i believed that i was growing up. so, i believed what i was hearing. including when i was seven years old the church beamed in the mormon prophet from salt lake city. we were living out in texas, and they lowered a screen, and his white—haired, you know, face, came onto the screen, very, very imposing. it was as close to god as you could probably get. i mean, it was very god—like, he was very intimidating. i will never forget him saying, next to the sin of murder comes the sin of sexual impurity, homosexuality. now, i might not have known what that meant at that moment, but i soon learned. at first, i thought it was just a fabulous new scrabble word, because it had a x in it and all of those syllables. soon i learned i would bring great shame to myself and my family if anyone found out that i had
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a crush on the boy down the street, which i did, that i would also be going to hell. i would not be with my heavenly father. soi... and that if i did fall in love it would have to be something hidden, suppressed. imagine... that's an enormous darkness to take right through childhood, adolescence and into early adulthood without being able to discuss it. there was no one to discuss it with. you would be in trouble if you discussed it. if i discussed it in the military, you couldn't be openly gay in the military at the time. you would be kicked out. if i discussed it with anyone in our society, which was very conservative at the time, i would be in great trouble. in some places it was still a crime. you would sort of be expelled. i would certainly be expelled from the things that create community where i am from, so from my church, and from my neighbourhood and from my school, i would be a pariah. and, you know, that creates isolation, and that isolation makes young, talented lgbtq people fade
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and stop trying to excell, stop trying to stick out in positive ways. and for me that isolation ultimately lent to thoughts of taking my own life. because you tell a young person that when they first feel love that that's not going to lead to things like dates and the prom and marriage, but that it could lead to prison or electroshock therapy and certainly disownment from your church or your home, you wonder what's the purpose of living. you took the decision, you came out to your mother, it must have been very difficult, when you were 21. yeah, i was 21 years old. i didn't mean to come out. we were in the military, we were living in washington, dc and i was home for christmas. we would sit up and talk all night long. and you have to understand, my mum had been paralysed from a young age. so she was very different too but she remained very, very conservative.
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at a certain point i wasn't giving anything to the conversation. i wasn't speaking. so she filled in the blanks. she was very mad about this thing which was "don't ask, don't tell", which was a law at the time that, as long as no one found out you were gay or lesbian... you could be in the military as long as you didn't say you were gay. as long as you kept it quiet, which was basically saying, stay in the closet, who you are and what you are is shameful. it not only hurt the people in the military, but their kids. my mum didn't see it that way. she was angry because it let gay or lesbian people in in any form. these people she had been taught were, you know, next to murderers in terms of sin. these people who were wrong and sick and broken. and she just kept going on and on about it. and i came out because, at a certain point, even though i was literally praying not to, i could feel the warmth of my tears hit my cheeks.
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and a good southern mum can read those tears. she said she knew when i started to cry — i'll get tearyjust thinking back to that moment, because i didn't want to come out, i wasn't ready to come out. that coming out experience, her reaction to it i will never forget. she just got very quiet, her heart breaking, knowing her son would face challenges she didn't want him to. she said why, why would you choose this? because that's what thought was. will never forget pointing to her crutches — because she was paralysed from polio — on the bed, and i said, mum, why did you choose those? and she didn't have an answer for that. that was the beginning of our conversation and it was a conversation that would go on for quite some time. it was not easy. she did not immediately accept me, but there was a lot of unlearning that had to be done. a lot of that unlearning happened when she met my gay and lesbian friends when she came to my graduation from ucla's film school and she started to hear the stories of gay and lesbian young people. and they didn't match up
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with what she heard from the mormon prophet, orfrom the military, or from the state at the time, those personal stories, not political stories, not about the constitution or science, personal stories from these young people and myself eventually erased the generations of homophobia she had learnt from the church and from the state and it was gone. i will neverforget, after a night near my graduation, when she spent an entire evening with my gay friends, that she finally held me and hugged me, and in those tears i knew that the lies and the myths and the distortions about being gay were gone. and that was love. that was love, and that was loving me for who i am. and understanding there was not a flaw in that. there was not a fault in that. you have said something important. as i have looked at your career, researching meeting you, your faith in storytelling and the degree to which it can make a difference to the way people see and think. because i want to take you forward now, you said you went to ucla film school and after that
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you developed a very successful career writing, screenwriting. and i think by the time you were 30—31, you had this extraordinary success. you became preoccupied with telling the story of one man, harvey milk, who was the first publicly gay elected official in any us city in san francisco. right. what was it about the milk story that you believed could change hearts and minds? well, i'll break that down a bit. first i think only a story can change hearts and i think only hearts can change minds. that's how i see it. so, if you want to change it, don't start here. that's a mistake we see on tv programmes and news programmes all day and night. start here. tell a personal story. that is — personal stories can leap over the walls built by politics, region, and by religion, and by race — go right through them. and i have always believed in the power of story to do that. and i get that from the south, i learned that from a bunch
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of conservative southern folks who liked their whiskey and telling stories that night. secondly, there was a story — i was lucky enough at a certain point, my mum remarried and she remarried a good catholic, which meant he went to church twice a year. and he was much more open—minded and he also had orders to ship off to the bay area in california, and my mum loaded up the car with three boys, a cat, and all of our belongings in the trunk, and we took off to california. there, i heard the story of harvey milk, as a teenager. it was a story of an openly gay men. i didn't know there was such a thing. ithought, boy, that's a dangerous thing to be. that is not how his story progress. yes, like you said, he won an election, he was winning at the ballot box. let me stop you there, because sean penn makes an amazing appearance as harvey milk. let's give people a sense of what it was like in the ‘70s when harvey milk was making his name.
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let's have a look. my name is harvey milk, and i'm here to recruit you! i want to recruit you for the fight to preserve your democracy. brothers and sisters, you must come out! come out to your parents, come out to your friends, if indeed they are your friends. come out to your neighbours, come out to your fellow workers! once and for all, let's break down the myths and destroy the lies and distortion! cheering so, that's harvey milk at the, sort of, height of his compelling rhetoric. yeah. the sad, terrible thing is that, no sooner had he sort of won an audience for this powerful message, than he was murdered, shot and killed, 1977, because he had a lot of enemies. right. i wonder whether you,
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from harvey milk‘s life, that you were gonna have to fight very hard and confront people and difficult things to get your message out there? well, i take my lesson from harvey in many ways. it is that you have to reach out to unexpected allies. and by unexpected i mean some of those people who you might think are your enemies, if you are going to build the coalitions to create progress. now, that means looking past yourself, looking past your own needs and desires, and i don'tjust mean 1978, i mean 2017. minorities need to live listen to this message that harvey was preaching, which is, how do you build the coalition of the uses? how do you care for your neighbour and much as your own needs? how do you understand that every single person in this planet right now is a minority in one way or another. it depends on how you slice the pie. and you can help them find the interest they have
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in your plight if you help them with yours. he went to the union workers, white, working class union workers who could not afford to put their talented kids through school, and created an alliance with him, with them, and that's how he got elected. what you have just said to me is incredibly positive and it is about building alliances and coalitions, perhaps some of them unexpected, but you also have to take things on. and, it seems to me, one of the things you have done, you have had to do, is confront to a certain extent your own religion and your own background. sure. for example, when you decided... you have had a lot of successful tv scripts and films in your life but you have also taken time—out to be a political activist. one of the things you were most active on was proposition eight, that was the campaign by conservative—led groups to fight very hard to stop gay marriage in california. and for a while they were successful. and my church was leading the way financially. exactly.
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you had to take on the mormons and you made a film about it which, to many people inside the faith that you had been born into, was disgraceful, was a betrayal. i would imagine it was also a revelation to many of them, eye opening to many of them. the director of the documentary said would you take part in this and help make the documentary that holds the church accountable for the money being poured into the anti—marriage cause? i was nervous and i called my mother and she said here you go again. i said, yeah, but ijust want to tell the truth. what trouble can we get in if we do that? we were just following the money. that's all we did. on the other side of that, there was no attack from the church, and i give them credit for this. they gave me a phone call. they said, brother black,
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please speak with us. we want to meet with you in salt lake city. learning the lessons from my mum, keeping channels open, i said yes. i went there. they invited me to the mormon tabernacle christmas spectacular. if you know the mormon church, it is like the oscars of mormondom. it is their biggest night of the year. if it fabulous. they invited me and we took some gay and lesbian families and their kids. what became evident to the church was that those lesbians and their children, they were having as much trouble keeping those children quiet as the straight couples. the challenges were not different. i will never forget the white—haired man, one of the leaders of the public relations department of the church, he took my hand, and said, brother black, do you want a family one day? i said yes.
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of course, i want 12 or20 kids, i'm mormon. i mean, you can take the kid out of the churc, but come on... he got tearful and said "i didn't realise that." what became clear in the subsequent conversation was that he thought our mission was about breaking down the institution the mormon church holds dear. and what they learned in those days and weeks was that we want our families protected and respected, along with our children like they do. that is the bottomline. that is interesting. although you are now an acclaimed campaigner and activist for gay rights, you sound like a died in the wool conservative, especially when you talk about what marriage means to you. we have language in common
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with conservatives and progressives. we all have children. put us together with conservatives and we start speaking the same language when we are all together. what is interesting in politics, both in the united states and much of the west, is the fight you are fighting, the right for gay marriage, it has been won. something like 63% of americans believe gay marriage is right and accept and embrace it as part of america. you have just made a film called when we rise, looking at a0 years and more of gay rights, you have been filming and reporting and remarking on a journey that has reached its final destination. absolutely not. marriage equality was the prime mover unexpectedly of our movement unexpectedly as part
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of proposition eight, which caught fire. we all got together with some folks, legal minds, and we sued the state of california and the federal court over the proposition, saying marriage was a right for everyone. if we were going to do it right, we needed some allies. we had a lawyer go to the supreme court for us, the same who gave us george bush to the white house. we had that unique voice. we told the personal stories, because we understood we could get five out of nine votes of the supreme court but if we wanted to change the culture, make the world safe for lgbt families, we had to tell stories, about them and children, not of science or the law. we told stories of those affected by the decision.
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those are the stories were told in public in those five years on the way to the supreme court. they were told in court. they did not only convince those five of ninejudges, but public opinion as well. i was doing what i did with my mum on a massive scale. getting back to the point over whether you have reached their destination, a sense of achievement, how deep it runs, donald trump is now in the white house... i can barely hear you say those words. it is tough to believe. i wonder whether you believe the election of donald trump... certain things have already happened. for example, he has rolled back the decision of allowing transgender children in schools to choose which bathroom they want to go in, it has been rolled back. it is disgusting.
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you said it was so important to build bridges and understand people with different views. how do those two views sit together? i think, first and foremost, if this was a man i truly believed did this because of his belief, i would be more curious about where he is coming from. but it is incredibly apparent this man is using fear to get power. that is what that is. this is not a man of true faith who believes there is something actually wrong here and is
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taking action on it. this is a man who, like nero, believes if you divide, you can conquer, and he did. people of diversity, who i think have become drunk on their success a little bit, complacent... i remember going to the supreme court remembering how proud we were. but i believed we had lost sight of how we got there, through coalitions of the usses. any minority on their own is vulnerable. you would hear the chanting, gay, straight, black, white, same struggle, same fight. but i did not see many lgbt people showing up viisibly at those rallies. we are losing the people that got harvey elected and got us where we are. from the passion i am hearing in your voice, we clearly have to keep fighting. i wonder if you still have to put the filmmaking on hold to continue this political fight? you know, i am doing some filmmaking addressing it, like when we rise.
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it was billed as a reminder and warning, saying if we lose sight of our brothers and sisters and other movements, we are vulnerable. that is why it is called when we rise, not when lgbt rises. it comes from the black movement, the women's movement, and something called peace movement from the 70s which we seem to have forgotten about. i was writing this as a warning to get back to coalitions so we would not be divided or defeated, and the pendulum of progress would keep going forward. instead, we were divided and we were conquered. and now it is a warning. and so i am doing projects which show a path forward. it is not unique to be in this position where the pendulum
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is so far back. it is part of a process, and there is a way forward. a final point, you have talked a lot about what drives your filmmaking and activism. you also said earlier in this interview, you cannot deny your mormon roots and you want a big family. you are married, happily married. yes. children is definitely something you want to embrace. absolutely. yeah. i am wondering how would you fit all of this in. the wonderful thing about writing in particular is that production is difficult, but with writing, you are also looking for distraction, and children provide that. you need something when your brain is exhausted. no eyes are better than children's eyes to help you do that. i want to raise children and look through their eyes, to make mistakes and encourage them to learn more and more and more. that is why i have been in this fight for so long. for me, it is about family.
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dustin lance black, we have to end it there. but thank you so much. thank you very much. well, tuesday's looking pretty good across well, tuesday's looking pretty good a cross m ost well, tuesday's looking pretty good across most of the uk. the rest of the week, however, overall is still looking rather changeable. as we head into the weekend, it looks pretty blustery as well. heavy rain over some areas, and in the
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early hours of tuesday morning, there could be some rain in the far north east of the country and possibly the far south—east as well, maybe even a clap of thunder. the day starting is a relatively mild one. 14,16, even up to 17 in the south. bright across most areas, some showers around, here and there. the south—east, midlands, wales, some showers in the lake district. maybe some showers in northern ireland and western scotland, most of that overnight rain moving away to the north—east of the screen, good riddance. as far as tuesday morning, the second half of the morning and the afternoon, showers brewing inland. not a completely dry day.
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take an umbrella if you are out for any length of time. sunny spells, feeling quite warm, but showers breaking out. how are we doing compared to the rest of europe? london getting up to 2a degrees, on par with paris but some storms around here. similar to moscow. in italy and rome, temperatures up to 35 degrees. at home, tuesday into wednesday, a ridge of high pressure. that usually means fine weather. for many parts of england and eastern scotland, wednesday morning and afternoon looking fine. you can't miss this. this is the next low pressure weather fronts moving in during wednesday morning and afternoon. we're going downhill in belfast, glasgow, around the irish sea, liverpool and into cornwall. london looking fine. temperatures up to 23 degrees. rain moving through during the course of wednesday into thursday. a fresher day for most of us on thursday.
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brisk winds, some showers. temperatures getting up to around 2a degrees. place a placea ——i place a ——i say fresher because the winds will pick up. winds will pick by friday, quite blustery with sunshine by friday, quite blustery with sunshine and showers. i'm rico hizon in singapore. the headlines: north korea announces that its leader has been studying plans for a missile strike on the american territory of guam. devastation in sierra leone. hundreds are feared dead after an entire hillside collapses in heavy rains. i'm babita sharma in london. also in the programme: two days after the white supremacist attack in virginia, president trump finally condemns racism. racism is evil, and those who cause
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violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the kkk, neo—nazis, white supremacists... as india marks 70 years of independence today, we talk to one family about how partition still affects them.
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