Over the course of 10 years -- from the early 2000s through the tail end of that decade -- Dustin Lance Black meteorically evolved into one of the most unique and critically acclaimed of all Hollywood screenwriters. The product of a conservative Mormon household in California, Black moved with his family to Salinas during his teens and almost instantly gravitated to the theater arts, with stints as an actor, crewmember, and directorial apprentice. Following high school, Black attended UCLA's school of theater, film, and television, graduating with honors in 1996.
During his early post-collegiate years, Black primarily worked as an art director on various projects, then segued into helming music videos and commercials. He remained aware of his own homosexuality from an early age, and thus felt a strong desire to explore gay issues (particularly gay rights) dramatically through his artistic craftsmanship. Black moved into writing and directing in 2000 helming and scripting the gentle and thoughtful (yet unyielding) gay coming-of-age feature Journey of Jared Price in 2000. Thereafter, a series of offbeat documentaries followed that Black scripted, directed, and shot, including the 2001 On the Bus (the vérité account of a bus full of gay men attending the Burning Man alternative culture festival in Nevada), and the 2003 My Life With Count Dracula, a biographical look at Saturn Awards and Count Dracula Society founder Donald A. Reed.
Black's recognition increased considerably with two achievements: he scripted numerous episodes of the quirky HBO ensemble drama Big Love (with Bill Paxton as the head of a colorful Mormon clan) and -- as the crowning achievement of his career up through that time -- scripted the A-list feature Milk, a biopic of slain gay rights crusader and San Francisco mayor Harvey Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant and starred Sean Penn. The film received numerous Oscar nominations and won Black one for Best Original Screenplay.