“There has never been a recorded, popularized LGBTQ history like this,” divulges Dustin Lance Black during our recent video chat (watch above) about his new limited series “When We Rise.” This four-part ABC production seeks to recount no less than the entirety of the gay rights movement, from the Stonewall Riots to the fight for marriage equality. “That’s pretty astounding that we’ve been in a movement for half a century now that’s been very public, and yet young people …can’t just tune in and have a sense that they have a history, they have forefathers and foremothers who have been fighting for them, which increases their sense of isolation. It’s very dangerous.” The show features a large ensemble cast including Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Rachel Griffiths.
When Black embarked upon this massive undertaking, he tried to, “find these real people who lived these lives of coalition-building, who did it their entire lives.” He narrowed his focus to Cleve Jones (Pearce), Roma Guy (Parker), Ken Jones (Williams), and Diane Jones (Griffiths), who fought not just for gay rights, but for the rights of women, blacks, and immigrants, amongst other causes (the four are portrayed in youth by Austin P. McKenzie, Emily Skeggs, Jonathan Majors, and Fiona Dourif respectively). In seeking out these true life figures, Black reveals, “it was also important to me that they survived, because too often we tell stories of our social justice leaders, and the message is if you fight for equality, you die in the end.”
Black won an Oscar for penning “Milk” (2008), the Gus Van Sant directed biopic about Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay elected official in California. In addition to creating the series, he also directed the final installment, which focuses on the struggle for marriage equality (Van Sant, Dee Rees, and Thomas Schlamme helmed the other three). Check out our full interview above for more about his work on “When We Rise.”
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