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When We Rise Series: Why Everyone Should Watch, LGBT Or Straight

“This is much bigger than you all realize,” says Whoopi Goldberg’s Pat Norman in a scene out of the trailer of When We Rise. “You all have to get yourself together. This is everybody’s issue.”

Those words are made manifest across ABC’s new miniseries, a dramatic retelling of the Gay Rights Movement. The series touches on major milestones achieved by the movement so far – starting with baby steps in the early 70’s. It naturally culminates in the 2015 nationwide legalization of gay marriage in the US. The changes that happened in between are explored – as well as the struggles exerted to effect those changes.

Talents At The Helm

Dustin Lance Black takes the reins of When We Rise as both writer and director. A strong proponent of the movement himself, Black previously won an Oscar for best original screenplay in 2008. That was for Milk, a Sean Penn film about the life of gay politician Harvey Milk. Black’s approach to When We Rise doesn’t work by hanging onto the coattails of Milk. Rather, it expands the view beyond California. The story is framed in a larger setting, both in terms of time and place.

Leading the cast are Emmy Award winner Guy Pearce as Cleve Jones, and Golden Globe Award winner Mary Louise Parker as Roma Pauline Guy.

Rachel Griffiths portrays Roma’s wife Diane. Michael K. Williams also joins the cast as Ken Jones, as well as Rosie O’Donnel as Del Martin.

It’s a talented line-up present for When We Rise. All that talent is channeled through the 8-hour special – divided into 4 parts – which gathers as much history on one of America’s biggest civil rights movements.

No Subtlety

A common criticism of the series has so far been its heavy handedness. Time points out that there’s no subtlety in the series’ execution. It’s lessons and moralities are laid flat out on the table from the start, making no mistake about the message it wants to get across. Due to its predictability (the audience already knows that the activists “win” in the end) the Boston Herald also likens it to a “dull history lesson”.

In some way, that becomes a fair criticism in terms of technical execution. The series swings between its macro view (nationwide scope) and its micro view (the characters’ individual struggles), though not with perfect finesse. As the Rotten Tomatoes consensus then puts it, the series’s ambitious reach goes a little beyond its grasp.

But being clear cut is perhaps the point behind Black’s project. Besides being a TV special worth some entertainment value, When We Rise aims to make noise where it believes it is still needed.

The social implications of the series invite debate and discussion. But it makes a stand on one particular side of the line, loud and clear.

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