Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tate Taylor

42-year-old Tate Taylor is the openly gay director/writer of the Academy Award nominated film, The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett's civil rights-era novel of the same name. Stockett, who has known Taylor since they were in a Presbyterian Church preschool together in Jackson, Mississippi, gave him rights to make the film adaptation in 2008, before the book was published. Actually, Taylor started writing the screenplay before a publisher was found, deciding he’d make an independent film based on an unpublishable manuscript.

Last month the film received four Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture and acting noms for Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer. The film won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Made on a $25 million budget, The Help has grossed more than $200 million so far.

On February 19 Taylor is set to receive the Writers Guild of America West's Paul Selvin Award for his adapted screenplay. The Selvin Award recognizes written work which embodies the spirit of constitutional rights and civil liberties.

“The studios, other than Dreamworks, didn’t want to produce it, because I insisted on directing it,” Taylor said. “… I can’t say that I blame them. You know, on paper, you just don’t let someone with limited experience go down there with a pile of money and start making a complicated ensemble piece. I’m not a sure-fire hit in the Hollywood economics and business model, but it happened because I was being stubborn and Dreamworks studios was being really cool by saying, ‘You know what? Let’s give it a shot’.”

Stockett and Taylor once shared a rent-controlled apartment in New York’s East Village. Stockett recounts that 60 literary agents turned her down. However, once The Help became a best seller, Stockett promoted Taylor as the person to write and direct the movie version. “I really wanted a Mississippian to tell the story, to translate it to the screen,” she says. Taylor commented, “We didn’t think there was any way a studio would do an all-female bi-racial drama set in the sixties. They just don’t make these movies anymore.”

Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny, was Taylor’s roommate while he was working on the screenplay in L.A. Filmed in Greenwood, Mississippi, the crew was greeted rapturously by the locals, nearly 1,000 of whom wound up as extras. Viola Davis, who many consider a shoo-in for a best actress Oscar win (tune in on February 26), arrived a month early. She had already started her research, watching civil rights documentaries like “Eyes on the Prize” and reading books about that era. “I read anything I could possibly get my hands on just to recreate what it was like to live in that time period,” she said.

Taylor summed up the pride he takes in this project: “What’s meant the most to me in this whole process is that people I don’t know sending me letters and emails saying ‘I was about to quit the business. It’s changed so much. It’s so jaded. It’s so economically driven. The art has been lost. And I heard what happened with you and and Kathryn and DreamWorks…and I am refueled.’ That makes me feel really good.”

In an interview with The Advocate, Taylor said, “I didn’t live through the ’60s, so one of the ways I was able to really understand that civil-rights struggle was by looking at what’s happening in America now with the gay community. Gays understand what it’s like to be discriminated against.”

After fifteen years of work in New York City and Los Angeles, Taylor recently moved into Wyolah, a 70-acre antebellum plantation in Church Hill, north of Natchez. He hopes to hold workshops and host industry hopefuls on the c. 1836 estate, poignantly built by slave labor. Taylor plans on restoring the plantation, turning the third floor of the main house into a space to hold such events. Many of the original Mississippi plantation outbuildings survive, including a great house with double porches, doctor’s office, brick kitchen (photo below), commissary, carriage house and barn. Wyolah plantation and its nine buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An interview with Tate Taylor at the U.K. premiere of The Help:

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