Cleve Jones’ memoir inspired the ABC mini-series of the same name, When We Rise, which is scheduled to run on ABC in February 2017. We cannot wait to see it, and can only guess that there will be numerous local viewing parties organized around its showing, once the air dates are announced. Many of us watched the creation of the series, since much of the filming took place just steps from our homes and work places here in San Francisco.
Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black wrote and created the series, which chronicles the real-life personal and political struggles, setbacks and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to the once unfathomable successes of today.
Black, an honors graduate of UCLA’s School of Film and Television, has been repeatedly named one of the 50 most powerful LGBT people in America today. He wrote the original screenplay for MILK, the biopic of Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn. He is a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which successfully led the federal cases for marriage equality in California and Virginia with lawyers David Boise and Ted Olson, putting an end to California’s discriminatory Proposition 8.
In 2012 Black merged his creative and civil rights work with “8,” a play based on the Federal Proposition 8 trial. “8’s” Los Angeles cast included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly. The play was broadcast live, and has been staged in eight countries and all fifty states. It continues to break viewership records online. Given Black’s track record, expectations are incredibly high for When We Rise.
Starring in the mini-series are Guy Pearce (“Memento,” “L.A. Confidential”) as LGBT activist Cleve Jones, Mary-Louise Parker (“Weeds,” “Angels in America”) as women’s rights leader Roma Guy, Rachel Griffiths (“Brothers and Sisters,” “Six Feet Under”) as her wife, social justice activist Diane, Michael K. Williams (“Boardwalk Empire,” “The Wire”) as African-American community organizer Ken Jones and Ivory Aquino as transgender-activist Cecelia Chung.
Joining them are Austin McKenzie (“Spring Awakening”) as Younger Cleve Jones, Emily Skeggs (“Fun Home”) as Younger Roma Guy, newcomer Jonathan Majors as Younger Ken Jones, and Fiona Dourif (“The Master”) as Younger Diane.
The story unfolds from Jones’ youth as a Quaker from Arizona, to his leading the National March for Equality in 2009 and beyond. Black’s close collaboration with Jones should be evident throughout the production.
In terms of some of its other prominent figures, Ken Jones, an African-American Vietnam veteran, joined the gay-liberation movement in San Francisco, only to discover and confront racism within the gay men’s community. For years he organized services for homeless youth, worked to diversify the gay movement, and led efforts to confront the devastation of the AIDS epidemic.
From rural Maine, Roma Guy is a lesbian and a long-time social justice leader who co-founded the San Francisco Women’s Building. Then, as a Public Health Commissioner, she worked with others to bring healthcare access to all San Franciscans. She is currently a criminal-justice activist.
Diane, a lesbian mother and grandmother of three, joined the Women’s Movement in the 1970s in San Francisco, co-founded the Women’s Building and has worked as an HIV/AIDS nurse and social justice activist at San Francisco General Hospital for 33 years.
Special guest stars include Henry Czerny, Whoopi Goldberg, Arliss Howard, Sam Jaeger, T.R. Knight, Mary McCormak, Kevin McHale, Rosie O’Donnell, Denis O’Hare, Pauley Perrette, David Hyde Pierce, Richard Schiff, Phylicia Rashad, Rob Reiner and William Sadler.
“When We Rise” is executive produced by the Dustin Lance Black (“Milk,” “Big Love,” “J. Edgar”), Gus Van Sant (“Milk,” “Elephant,” “Good Will Hunting”) Laurence Mark (“Julie & Julia,” “Dreamgirls,” “I, Robot,” “Jerry Maguire”), and Bruce Cohen (“American Beauty,” “Milk,” “Silver Linings Playbook”). Van Sant directs the two-hour premiere of the eight-hour mini-series event.
For a preview, check out the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CBZZgXaE_A.