Okay I have a new screenwriting hero: Dustin Lance Black took home the Writers' Guild of America award for Best Original Screenplay for Milk last night (alongside fellow winner Simon Beaufoy who won the Best Adapted Screenplay for Oscar frontrunner Slumdog Millionaire.)
With his WGA win, the hunky Black (pictured taken from a photo spread shot by Gus Van Sant for Vogue Hommes International) can no doubt be considered the frontrunner in the Best Original Screenplay Oscar category later this month, an amazing accomplishment for a writer still in his early 30s (who looks like he's still in his early 20s.)
The Defamer jokes that Black's photo spread by Van Sant signals the writer's deploying his final trump card in the Oscar battle: beefcake shots (perhaps Black's fellow nominees will cry foul because they don't have the body to pull off the same tactic?) If I were an Oscar voter, I'd approve. The full spread and article can be found here.
Nevertheless, in recent years the Academy has had a tendency to deny openly gay nominees or gay flicks in general with the big win on Oscar night (remember Ian McKellen's loss in 2001 for his brilliant turn as Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring to the never-seen performance by Jim Broadbent in Iris, or Brokeback Mountain's embarrassing loss to the TV-movie-ish Crash in 2005.) Still, some openly gay nominees do slip through with a win in categories like Best Screenplay (such as Bill Condon in 1998 for Gods and Monsters.)
So I'll be watching with great curiosity to see if Black gets over the top on Feb 22nd in Best Original Screenplay. It also seems the Academy might award Black's lead actor Sean Penn with his second Best Actor Oscar for his electrifying performance as Harvey Milk. Could Milk's eight nominations and possible wins be the Academy's subtle attempt to make amends for its monumental snub of Brokeback three years ago? For some voters, I'm sure the answer is yes. Of course, Milk is unlikely to win the big prize over Slumdog, let's not go crazy after all! Gay flicks will continue to be Oscar's bridesmaid for the next few years for sure, with minor wins here and there.
For more on Lance Black, particularly what motivated him to write Milk, check out this interview.
It appears that Black's shirtless photo spread linked above has caused some consternation at Milk's distributor Focus Features, where execs are possibly worried about a homophobic Oscar backlash. Check out this AfterElton post for more info. It appears that Diablo Cody, who won Best Original Screenplay last year for Juno, can strip and be sexy and still win an Oscar (because she's a she) - but get one gay man (Van Sant) to photograph another younger gay man (Black) shirtless in the middle of Oscar season and suddenly we've got a problem? It appears so.
************UPDATE # 2**************
Maybe such shirtless fears aren't warranted. Man, how I'd love to see a speech like this from Black on Oscar night...