About two weeks ago, I finally sat down to watch the historical retelling of the gay civil rights movement in the form of ABC’s “When We Rise” created by Oscar-winning director, Dustin Lance Black, and inspired by Cleve Jones’s book of the same title. From the moment I saw the trailer, I knew exactly what I was getting and counted myself fortunate that I had even heard of this mini-series as I don’t watch cable television anymore. However, what I didn’t expect is how much it would impact & touch my soul. I covered my feelings on activism in my previous entry, so I’ll be sticking to sharing my thoughts on show from my perspective as a trans woman.
“When We Rise” focuses largely on four activists who became integral to the forward motion of the LGBT civil rights movement from the late Sixties into the Nineties: Cleve Jones, Roma Guy, Ken Jones, and Cecilla Chung. The major events touched on were violent discrimination, women’s rights, the AIDS/HIV epidemic, and the future of activism. However, if we are being honest here, Cecilla’s presence as the “T” element was largely silent throughout this series. This did not upset me, as I’m aware that that timeline was meant to highlight a different era unlike ours today. Being gay/lesbian was the major conflict of the period and “When We Rise” does a phenomenal job at blending directing with actual footage from key protests and events serving to educate and drive the very true realities of pain and loss home.
The actors and filming showcased in both the past and near present periods of the series were all wonderful and largely believable to me. I connected with them and almost believed that they were the actual people they were portraying. This is especially the case for Guy Pearce (Cleve) who served as the narrative centerpiece of the series. There is a sense that every actor who brought “When We Rise” to life had a strong emotional investment in this production. After watching various interviews featuring Dustin and Ivory Aquino (Cecilla), there is no doubt that the direction of this series was meant to open the eyes of those beyond just the LGBTQ community. Not to mention, the notable star power of Rosie O’ Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg helped elevate the promotional push towards a broad audience.
As a whole, this series served to educate those unaware of the historical battles fought and won by real people for the sake of gay civil rights and inspire the same fiery passion for the next generation of activists to keep fighting. “One Struggle. One Fight” was the resounding theme throughout the series. This goal is what made the minimal transgender representation a non-issue for me. There was so much I didn’t know about the past battles fought on behalf of the LGBTQ community that this series opened my eyes about many narratives and individuals that everyone should be aware of. Most of all, it made me consider my place in the fight for universal human rights and whether my actions to build my own pedestal as an outspoken transgender female is enough.
To me, “When We Rise” is as much for the “LGB” as it is for the “TQ” – a solid reminder of how much progress we have made by working together rather than individually. As transgender civil rights have been front and center in the media, I believe we need this sense of cohesive love and pooling of resources within the community now more than ever to continue the fight and raise tangible awareness that we are real people deserving of equal care and protection as any other human.
As of this post’s publishing, “When We Rise” can be streamed via ABC’s website or through Hulu. I truly feel it’s incredibly important for as many people to consume this special piece of media as possible. My sincere hope is that others will feel compelled to give this a proper watch for themselves.