‘When We Rise’ — ABC’s docudrama of battle for civil rights
“When We Rise,” a mini-series scheduled to air on ABC starting Monday, Feb. 27, screened its premiere episode at aTVfest and stood out as potentially the most politically relevant new show to air this year. Written and created by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, the mini-series chronicles the U.S. Civil Rights movement in the latter part of the 20th century, focusing on the personal and political struggles of members of the LGBTQA+ community.
The entire series is based on the writings of notable LGBTQA+ activist Cleve Jones, who co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and conceived the idea of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. His story, along with those of women’s rights leader Roma Guy and African-American community organizer Ken Jones, begins amid the political turbulence of San Francisco in the 1970s. The mini-series documents their hardships and triumphs as each of them journey towards their liberation and acceptance over a period of several decades.
While the show focuses primarily on the gay rights movement and subsequent discrimination, it also ties in themes of sexism and racism. In the premiere episode, viewers will see Roma Guy’s character struggle to organize a women’s rights rally due to resistance from an all-male police force, while Ken Jones’ character, a sailor in the United States Navy, fights against discrimination from white shipmates.
In the current political atmosphere, the show’s themes come across as especially relevant given the current administration’s reputation for being extremely conservative with established goals to limit or overturn legislation protecting women’s rights and LGBTQA+ rights. As such, watching these characters fight passionately for their rights and actively defend their beliefs despite resistance is nothing short of inspiring.
Presented in two hour blocks on ABC, the series as a whole may potentially struggle with pacing, as the premiere occasionally dragged in its presentation. However, the jumps in time and aging of characters will more than likely keep the entire series moving forward and hold the interest of the viewers.
More than anything, the strength of “When We Rise” is in its cast. The show offers phenomenal performances from Guy Pearce as Cleve Jones, Mary-Louise Parker as Roma Guy, and Michael Kenneth Williams as Ken Jones. Austin McKenzie, Emily Skeggs and Jonathan Majors are equally authentic and convincing as the younger versions of the same characters.
Special guest stars include Henry Czerny, Whoopi Goldberg, T.R. Knight, Kevin McHale, Rosie O’Donnell, Denis O’Hare, Pauley Perrette, David Hyde Pierce, Richard Schiff, Rob Reiner and William Sadler.
As a whole, the series is sure to act as a reminder to everyone, especially the United States government, that when the rights of its people are threatened, they will speak up, they will fight back and they will rise.
Politically relevant, historically interesting and incredibly acted
Slow pacing at times