Review: ABC's 'When We Rise' is a necessary conversation on history and future of LGBTQ rights

When We Rise explores the turbulent and passionate history of the LGBTQ rights movement, but it also challenges us to join the battle for equal rights.7 Months Ago6 Months Ago7 Months AgoStarting Monday, ABC's four-part special series chronicles the start...

Review: ABC's 'When We Rise' is a necessary conversation on history and future of LGBTQ rights

When We Rise explores the turbulent and passionate history of the LGBTQ rights movement, but it also challenges us to join the battle for equal rights.

7 Months Ago

6 Months Ago

7 Months Ago

Starting Monday, ABC's four-part special series chronicles the start of the LGBTQ rights movement from its rocky beginnings in the 1970s to present day. It's told through the eyes of some of those who lived through the discrimination and violence, namely Cleve Jones, Ken Jones and Roma Guy.

Though When We Rise skips past the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the series picks up speed with the three now-famous activists coming to an epicenter of the movement in San Francisco.

Cleve (the younger played by Austin P. McKenzie, the older by Guy Pearce) escapes his repressive life and parents in Arizona to join the peace movement in northern California. Roma (younger, Emily Skeggs; older, Mary-Louise Parker) comes back to the U.S. after peace work in Africa to help create the first women's center run by women for women. And Ken (young, Jonathan Majors; older, Michael K. Williams) is a Vietnam veteran whose story arc involves devastating loss and struggling to find a place in the world as a gay black man.

The first two parts see the younger characters navigate a world of hate and misunderstanding in the 1970s and ‘80s. The last two follow their older selves, now established with lifelong partners and careers, yet still fighting the same fight decades later. Cleve will eventually help create the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and write his memoir When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, which inspired the show.

Their personal and professional lives are intertwined with the fight to be seen Truvabet as not mentally ill in the 1970s, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the fight for same-sex marriage in the ‘90s and 2000s. The series ends with the repeal of Proposition 8 in California in 2014 with a credit note that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015.

When We Rise is the gay community's Roots. It's a brutally honest history lesson told through those who experienced it firsthand. It may be eight hours, but covering more than 40 years of history comprehensively is hard to do.

It hits all the historical high notes without feeling like a textbook synopsis. The horror of the AIDS epidemic resonates when told through scenes of hospital wards, men dying alone and explicit grief. The tears will come quickly during peaceful protests that turn violent, when hateful words are thrown and when a transgender woman finally hears her mother call her "daughter."

The series can come off sanitized at times. Sex scenes and violence are cut short before they get too explicit. Not at all surprising for a series on Disney-run ABC. But it's a step in the right direction.

And it's no secret how relevant this piece of history is today. The fight for equal rights for everyone regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity is still being fought decades later.

When We Rise shows us that the long arm of history does bend toward justice, sometimes with mere individuals making it budge.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow @chelseatatham

Watch

Part I of When We Rise premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on ABC.

Parts II-IV air March 1, 2 and 3 at 9 p.m.

 

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