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When We Rise is an eight-part American docudrama miniseries about the history of LGBT rights advocacy in the United States from the 1970s to the 2010s. It was created by Dustin Lance Black and stars Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Kenneth Williams, Austin P. McKenzie, Emily Skeggs, Jonathan Majors, Fiona Dourif, and Sam Jaeger among 30 others. The miniseries premiered on ABC on February 27, 2017, with the rest of its episodes airing March 1 to 3.[1]

When We Rise
When We Rise ABC Logo.jpg
Created byDustin Lance Black
Written byDustin Lance Black
Directed by
Narrated by(see sources)
Theme music composer
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes8
Executive producer(s)
Running time341 minutes
Production company(s)
DistributorDisney–ABC Domestic Television
Original networkABC
Original releaseFebruary 27 –
March 3, 2017
External links


Based on the memoirs of LGBT activist Cleve Jones, When We Rise chronicles the personal and political struggles, set-backs, and triumphs of a diverse group of LGBTQ+ individuals who helped pioneer a portion of the civil rights movement from its infancy in the 20th century to the successes of today. The 45-year saga tells the evolving history of the modern gay rights movement, starting just after the Stonewall riots in 1969.[2]



No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateUS viewers
1"Part I"Gus Van SantDustin Lance BlackFebruary 27, 2017 (2017-02-27)[a]3.26[4]
1972: Three people—an Arizona peace activist named Cleve Jones, an African-American sailor Ken Jones in Vietnam, and a Boston women's activist Roma Guy—all move to San Francisco to join the nascent gay community.
2"Part II"Gus Van SantDustin Lance BlackFebruary 27, 2017 (2017-02-27)[a]2.64[4]
Roma helps take a stand against the National Organization for Women's attempts to purge lesbians from their ranks. Ken comes to accept—and fight for—his sexuality. After struggling to find San Francisco less welcoming than he'd hoped, Cleve hears of a New Yorker, Harvey Milk, running for election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
3"Part III"Dee ReesStory by : Eileen Myers
Teleplay by : Dustin Lance Black & Dianne Houston
March 1, 2017 (2017-03-01)2.30[5]
1978–79: Roma sees the establishment of The Women's Building. Harvey Milk runs for the Board of Supervisors against a backdrop of Anita Bryant's Moral Majority and John Briggs's statewide initiative to ban gay people and allies from working with children.
4"Part IV"Dee ReesStory by : Allison Abner and Lisa Zwerling
Teleplay by : Lisa Zwerling
March 1, 2017 (2017-03-01)1.79[6]
1981: A new disease, initially named gay-related immune deficiency, starts spreading among gay men and drug users in San Francisco. Roma and Diane start a family.
5"Part V"Thomas SchlammeDustin Lance BlackMarch 2, 2017 (2017-03-02)2.00[6]
1992: A decade after the advent of the AIDS Crisis, Cleve (now played by Guy Pearce) unveils the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, D.C., and visits ACT UP in New York as they fight for early clinical trials of new drugs. Ken (now played by Michael K. Williams) finds his life turned upside down when Richard dies of AIDS. Roma and Diane (now played by Mary-Louise Parker and Rachel Griffiths) work with Tom Ammiano to see Carole Migden elected to the Board of Supervisors—and find out he's the biological father of their daughter Annie.
6"Part VI"Thomas SchlammeDustin Lance BlackMarch 2, 2017 (2017-03-02)2.03[6]
1997: Ken relies on Cecilia Chung's support as he struggles with addiction at a VA hospital. Cleve visits the Human Rights Campaign in D.C., where Richard Socarides lobbies for Bill Clinton to do better than "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA. Roma and Diane's daughter Annie struggles with her unconventional background. In Palm Springs, Cleve looks after the child of a drug-addicted neighbor. 2006: Cleve speaks to the interviewer we've seen throughout, against a backdrop of the murder of Matthew Shepard and George W. Bush's proposed Federal Marriage Amendment.
7"Part VII"Dustin Lance BlackDustin Lance BlackMarch 3, 2017 (2017-03-03)2.07[6]
2008: As Barack Obama is elected president, California Proposition 8 revokes California's recently-acquired marriage equality, starting Cleve to help organise the National Equality March on Washington, D.C., and advocate for equal rights. Roma, Diane and Tom become grandparents and advocate for citywide universal healthcare in San Francisco. Ken is baptised, but finds some churches are less welcoming than others.
8"Part VIII"Dustin Lance BlackDustin Lance BlackMarch 3, 2017 (2017-03-03)2.07[6]
2009–13: Cleve takes the battle against Prop 8 through the federal courts all the way to the Supreme Court. Ken works with Cecilia Chung to get support for his church. Roma and Diane decide to get married if the Supreme Court allows it.


  1. ^ a b The first two parts of the series received an advance preview screening at the Palm Springs Film Festival on January 12, 2017.[3]



The series is eight hours long in seven parts. Gus Van Sant directed the first two-hour part, Dee Rees parts two and three, Thomas Schlamme parts four and five, and Black parts six and seven. The series is partially inspired by LGBT activist Cleve Jones's memoir When We Rise: My Life in the Movement.[7] Van Sant and Black previously collaborated on Milk, which likewise featured Cleve Jones as a major character.


On March 15, 2016, Carrie Preston was cast as Sally Gearhart.[8] Guy Pearce as Cleve Jones, Mary-Louise Parker as Roma Guy, Rachel Griffiths as Diane, Michael K. Williams as Ken Jones, Ivory Aquino as Cecilia Chung, Kevin McHale as Bobbi Campbell, Dylan Walsh as Dr. Marcus Conant, Rafael de la Fuente as Ricardo, Austin P. McKenzie as young Cleve Jones, Emily Skeggs as young Roma Guy, Jonathan Majors as young Ken Jones, Fiona Dourif as young Diane, Whoopi Goldberg as Pat Norman, Rosie O'Donnell as Del Martin, Denis O'Hare as Jim Foster, and David Hyde Pierce as Cleve's father, Dr. Jones, were cast on April 26, 2016, respectively.[9]

On June 22, 2016, T. R. Knight was cast as Chad Griffin and Richard Schiff as Judge Vaughn Walker. Rob Reiner, Pauley Perrette, William Sadler, Phylicia Rashad, Alexandra Grey, Mary McCormack, Arliss Howard, and Henry Czerny were booked as guest stars.[10] Charlie Carver was cast as Michael on November 21, 2016.[11]


Chris Bacon and Danny Elfman composed the music for the miniseries with various artists, and the soundtrack album is now released at Hollywood Records, Inc and iTunes.


The TV miniseries premiered on ABC on February 27, 2017 at 9 p.m. EST. Originally scheduled to air nightly until March 2,[12] the scheduling was later shifted to accommodate live coverage of the address to a joint session of Congress by President Donald Trump on February 28; the first episode remained scheduled to air on February 27, with the remaining three episodes airing from March 1 to 3.[13]


Critical responseEdit

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the series an approval rating of 81% based on 32 reviews, with an average rating of 6.65/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "When We Rise works as a well-meaning outreach project with a decent cast, even if the script's ambitious reach slightly exceeds its grasp."[14] On Metacritic, the series has a score of 67 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15]

Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter wrote in his review of the first part of the miniseries: "In a film festival environment, in which stories of otherness and barrier-breaking are part of the expected tapestry, When We Rise might play as a bit quaint, muted and smoothed out for mainstream audiences, which it very clearly is. But even in 2017, when we like to think that boundaries have been pushed a fair amount and that the voices being heard are as diverse as ever, When We Rise feels like a rather astounding thing to find on network TV."[3]

James Poniewozik of The New York Times wrote in his review: "When We Rise, ABC's sweeping four-night history of the gay rights movement, is a rebuttal. As a television drama, it often plays like a high-minded, dutiful educational video. But at its best moments, it's also a timely statement that identity is not just an abstraction but a matter of family, livelihood, life and death."[16]

Greg Braxton of the Los Angeles Times wrote in his review: "It could've been a scene from any of the recent protests that have arisen in the stormy first weeks of the Donald Trump presidency. But peering closer—at the '70s garb, the cameras recording the scene—reveals that this was a re-creation of another, similarly tumultuous, time. [...] The writer-director is still optimistic that When We Rise will appeal to a mainstream audience—including Trump supporters—because of its focus on family, emotion and perseverance."[17]

Danette Chavez of The A.V. Club wrote in her review: "When We Rise isn't laboring in another production's shadow, though; instead, it tries very hard to bring all of those moments and history makers to light. This is obviously a huge undertaking, one that traces the converging paths of gay activists who thwarted Prop 6, were later devastated by the rise of AIDS, but then rallied back to win marriage equality in 2015. Those battles weren't all fought by the exact same people, which pushes the scope of the miniseries even further. But a central trio of characters anchors the story, which runs through four decades (1971 to 2015, roughly)."[18]

When We Rise received a nomination for Best Miniseries at the 2018 Satellite Awards and won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Movie or Limited Series at the 29th GLAAD Media Awards.

Historical accuracyEdit

Cecilia Chung with actors Ivory Aquino and Emily Skeggs at Trans March San Francisco, June 2017

Although there were some non-factual elements, Cleve Jones (one of the principal gay activists depicted) stated that the small, factual changes Black and his team made to the 50-year history of specific characters and events portrayed do not dilute the overall truthfulness and realness of the miniseries.[19][20] Black spent four years researching and writing the script, consulting as many of the real life figures as possible[21] and many of the actors were able to meet with the individuals they portrayed.[19] The episodes often contain archival footage of actual events.[22]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Wagmeister, Elizabeth (December 21, 2015). "Gus Van Sant Re-Teaming with Dustin Lance Black on ABC Gay Rights Miniseries When We Rise". Variety. United States: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Fienberg, Daniel (January 12, 2017). "'When We Rise': TV Review - Palm Springs 2017". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Ratings: When We Rise Starts Softly, Loses Viewers in Hour Two". Headline Planet. February 28, 2017. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  5. ^ "Part two of When We Rise drew markedly fewer viewers than the little-watched premiere". Headline Planet. March 2, 2017. Retrieved March 2, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e "When We Rise Ratings". TVSeriesFinale. March 4, 2017. Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  7. ^ Jones, Cleve (2016). When We Rise: My Life in the Movement. New York City: Hachette Books. ISBN 978-0316315432.
  8. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 15, 2016). "Carrie Preston to Star In ABC's LGBT Rights Miniseries When We Rise". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  9. ^ Goldberg, Leslie (April 26, 2016). "ABC's Gay Rights Mini Enlists Michael K. Williams, Sets All-Star Guest Cast". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  10. ^ Wagmeister, Elizabeth (June 22, 2016). "Pauley Perrette, Rob Reiner & More Join ABC's Gay Rights Event Series When We Rise". Variety. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  11. ^ Wong, Curtis M. (November 21, 2016). "Here's a Look at When We Rise, ABC's New LGBTQ Rights Miniseries". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  12. ^ Mitovich, Matt (January 10, 2017). "ABC Sets Midseason Premieres for Once Upon a Time, American Crime, The Catch, Dirty Dancing Redo and Others". TVLine. United States: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  13. ^ Schwindt, Oriana (January 25, 2017). "ABC Shifts 'When We Rise' Airdate to Accommodate Trump Congressional Address". Variety. United States: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  14. ^ "When We Rise (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  15. ^ "When We Rise eviews". Metacritic. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  16. ^ Poniewozik, James (February 26, 2017). "Review: 'When We Rise' Charts the History of Gay and Transgender Rights". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  17. ^ Braxton, Greg (February 27, 2017). "The ambitious LGBT miniseries 'When We Rise' arrives in a new era of upheaval". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles: Tronc, Inc. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  18. ^ Chavez, Danette (February 27, 2017). "The sprawling When We Rise leaves no LGBT milestone unturned". The A.V. Club. Chicago: Onion, Inc. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Young, Sage (February 27, 2017). "How Historically Accurate Is 'When We Rise'? Years Of Research Went Into The Expansive Miniseries". Bustle.
  20. ^ Nagourney, Adam (February 16, 2017). "'When We Rise': Stories Behind the Pain and Pride of Gay Rights". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Friedlander, Whitney (February 27, 2017). "Dustin Lance Black Hopes LGBT Equality Miniseries When We Rise Is a "Road Map" for "Difficult Times"". Paste Magazine.
  22. ^ Wenger, Daniel (March 2, 2017). "Dustin Lance Black, the Screenwriter Behind "Milk" and "When We Rise," on Coming Out as a Gay Activist". The New Yorker.

External linksEdit