Epic television drama When We Rise charts the fight for LGBTI equality

Cleve Jones account of the rise of the gay civil rights movement in the US makes for a compelling drama in When We Rise. Created by Dustin Lance Black and starring Aussie actors Rachel Griffiths and Guy Pearce, this mini series charts the rise of the gay rights movement.

From the assassination of Harvey Milk to the heartbreak of losing countless friends to AIDS, to the rise of the gay rights movement and the fight for marriage equality; the past 50 years have been a tumultuous time for the LGBTIQ community. Dustin Lance Black’s miniseries When We Rise draws inspiration from these turbulent times to chronicle the lives and experiences of a group of pivotal players in the queer civil rights movement.

It’s an epic undertaking, spanning 45 years, as life and death, family and friendship weather the storms in the push for equality. It’s a series about outsiders and as such was a bold move for a mainstream TV network (it was produced and aired on US giant ABC), yet surprisingly perhaps to those viewers with more traditional views, the story revealed there is so much more that aligns us then separates us in our journey as human beings.

Black, who won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award in 2009 for Milk told Variety he always knew there were more stories to be told of the days of the early gay rights movement, other than Milk’s. He says in telling the tales of When We Rise he also wanted to show the interconnectedness of the rights movements back in the 70s.

Rachel Griffiths who plays Diane Jones (nurse and LGBT activist Roma Guy’s wife) says she hopes that people will appreciate the real stories being told on screen.

“What I really loved was they were stories of real women – not Hollywood lesbians… Mary Louise and I were really determined to be real,” she told an audience at the mini-series’ premiere screening at Mardi Gras Film Festival.

Griffiths also suggested the modern day activists could look to the series for clues as to how to leverage off each other’s work.

“Lance often talks about we are stronger together – and I agree movements should work together to achieve common goals especially where equal rights are concerned.

It’s a theory Black is keen to espouse on: “Cleve started in the peace movement, Ken Jones was in the military and a part of creating equality for African Americans in this country and in the military so he came from the black civil rights movement. Roma Guy came from the women’s movement. So it was important for me to help people today understand the interconnectedness of the social justice movements. I get very frustrated when I hear young LGBT people only talk about what it is their community needs and only seem to be interested in the work that needs to be done for their community. It’s incredibly shortsighted. You need to understand the interconnectedness,” he told Variety.

As for our own fight for marriage equality, which is still ongoing, Griffiths had the following to say:

“I have a huge love of the Supreme Court in America and I love the document of the Bill of Rights. And there is this wish in the founding of America, which says all men are created equal (and sometimes women are too which is awesome, she laughs). And as America has grown to expand the definition to include women and people of colour, it has become stronger and more prosperous… But there is this still always this document to refer to.

[In regards to the plebiscite]“We’re still having these discussions about it being a democracy and we’re taking the decision away from the people. We should all be able to vote and everyone have a say… Well… No! We don’t actually vote that. It’s not fair. So I think in some ways the lack of protection of that Bill of Rights has allowed the debate to be heightened. To not have marriage equality keeps us an unlucky country for some and an unfair one for others…”

 When We Rise is available to stream on demand at SBS.