I had the immense honor to be invited to an early preview for the upcoming multi-part television series When We Rise, held in New York City, wherein we were treated to the first two parts (or segment 1 of 4) and a Q&A follow-up. When I had previously written about the show coming soon, the trailer was not entirely clear about what the series would entail. Then again, how could you express 8 hours worth of content in just a 135 second trailer? Having seen the first two hours, I can more clearly understand the grand scope of the series, the full vision of creator/executive producer Dustin Lance Black and I’m excited to see all the rest.
It is based on the book of the same name by Cleve Jones, who became friends with Harvey Milk (of which the film Milk was written by Dustin Lance Black and won him the Oscar™). It starts just before their friendship as we learn about Cleve (played by Austin P. McKenzie and Guy Pearce) the story also cuts to the background of Roma Guy (played by Emily Skeggs and Mary-Louise Parker) and Ken Jones (played by Jonathan Majors and Michael Kenneth Williams) as well as other satellite characters that were integrated with each of these real-life LGBT movement heroes. The story will weave them together into one narrative but in the first segment, we are shown who they are individually and what inspired each of them to take on a fight that many told them would be fruitless or even deadly.
The series utilizes existing footage from various historical events throughout the LGBT struggles, especially ones during police raids and protests. These images, however, struck me deeply. I saw these images from the 1970’s, and they could just have easily been the same exact footage that I see on TV today. 40 years later and we’re still fighting a seemingly uphill, brutal, dangerous battle. Rights have been won, people have been lost. Freedoms have been gained, lives have been destroyed. However, just as the fight started to take ground, the community was hit with the devastating “Gay Cancer” that later was more properly named AIDS.
“Rights have been won, people have been lost. Freedoms have been gained, lives have been destroyed.”
The series will follow both of these struggles, showing the LGBT community fighting on two battle fronts trying to survive against so much out there to take them down and even kill them. Police, AIDS, and politicians bombarded an ever-resilient community because of the blood, sweat, and tears of these three pioneers. The story will continue up to almost present day. It will cover the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the monumental landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges that resulted in the Supreme Court declaring marriage equality for the entirety of the United States in 2015.
This piece, these stories, our history couldn’t come at a more important time. Those who were at the beginning of it all will need to be passing the mantle on to the next generation while our youngest generations seem to have already forgotten (or have never been taught) where the freedoms they so openly enjoy came from. It’s vital that they not only learn so as to appreciate how far we’ve come in these 40-odd years, but because they, very soon, will be called upon to be our next wave. We’ve seemingly lost sight of what it took to get to where we are today and somehow we’re also blinded to just how much further we still have to go in this battle. This epic story, although spread out over eight hours, was truly over 40 years in the making and Dustin Lance Black spent four years on this project alone, we cannot let our history slip through our fingers so easily. It is not taught in schools, it’s not respected, and it’s oftentimes swept under the carpet or even vilified. It’s about us. All the “Us’s”. It was then and it still is today.
“It’s about us. All the ‘Us’s’. It was then and it still is today.”
I will be writing further on this series as it progresses, so tune in for updates. The series will begin Monday, February 27, 2017, at 9/8 on ABC. Because there will be speeches on Tuesday, there will be no episode. Dustin Lance Black took immense pleasure, however, in informing us that ABC will be filling its station with ads for the series throughout the entirety of Trump’s speech, which many of us will enjoy solely for that factor alone. The series will then continue, uninterrupted, Wednesday-Friday. Each day will air one of the four segment pieces (roughly 2-hours each).
Be sure to tune in each night and leave your feedback as I’d love to hear what everyone else thought.