When We Rise: Full mini-series
March 2, 2017 11:57 AM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

Based on the memoir by Cleve Jones, with a script by Dustin Lance Black, this four-part mini-series covers several decades of LGBT and AIDS political activism in San Francisco.

In a sense, it's a sequel to the movie Milk, also scripted by Dustin Lance Black. The first part of the mini-series is directed by Gus Van Sant, the second by Dee Rees (director of Pariah) , the third by Thomas Schlamme, and the fourth by Dustin Lance Black.
posted by larrybob (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In the first night's episode, each of three focus characters encounters a 1971 issue of Life Magazine with an article on gay liberation. 17-year old white male teenager Cleve Jones deals with his homophobic family in Arizona, then leaves for San Francisco. White female Peace Corps volunteer Roma Guy says goodbye to her fellow Peace Corps member and girlfriend, Diane, in the African country of Togo, then tries to fit in with a lesbophobic chapter of NOW in Boston, then makes her way to the Bay Area. Black gay Navy sailor Ken Jones suffers a tragic loss, then gets reassigned to Treasure Island, near San Francisco, retraining bigoted military officers.

EW night 1 recap
posted by larrybob at 6:29 PM on March 2, 2017

Those of us with a little more background on gay history might note some anachronisms and inaccuracies; as JD Doyle of Queer Music Heritage points out, The Black Cat, the North Beach venue that employed José Sarria (a somewhat miscast Michael DeLorenzo), closed in 1964, while future disco diva Sylvester didn't arrive in SF until 1970, yet here in this TV show, Sylvester is depicted performing at the Black Cat rather than some more period-appropriate venue like the Pagoda Theater. In a comment to the above post, Cleve Jones (who had input into the show) notes that a prime hangout of the real-life activists depicted in the dramatization would have been The Stud, which is not mentioned in the series.
posted by larrybob at 6:51 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is anybody watching this? If not, why not?
posted by larrybob at 10:52 AM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am!

I wonder how much of the ratings issue is DVRs and the changing nature of television. I know some friends have told me they've been saving it on DVR for later.

And frankly, I'm very sure straight people just aren't interested. (Ok, I mean, most straight people. )

There could also be some weariness of the whole "important, powerful mini series event" thing? Where it feels like "ugh, this is supposed to be good for me but it's like having to take bad tasting medicine." (Like, speaking for myself, I binged a ton of Oscar movies over the last couple weeks and most of them are super weepy, so now with the Oscars over what I really want is a week of, like, Seth Rogen stoner comedy. But I'm watching this!)
posted by dnash at 2:12 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I saw it at the Castro Theater last week and we watched a little bit of it on TV -- I'm so unused to watching broadcast TV now and the commercials feel really jarring. I'm way too close to people in it to have any sense of objectivity about the show. I definitely enjoyed nitpicking the historical inaccuracies, though. Quite a few dramatic and chronological liberties were taken in the service of the narrative!
posted by gingerbeer at 2:23 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I felt like in night 3 it was really hitting its stride. Cleve Jones and the neighbor's baby subplot was a little odd, though.
posted by larrybob at 5:44 PM on March 3, 2017

I felt like in night 3 it was really hitting its stride. Cleve Jones and the neighbor's baby subplot was a little odd, though.

Agreed. The first two episodes felt a little like they were mechanically working their way down one list of people, and one list of events. I'm halfway through episode three and it's definitely picked up a little.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:22 PM on March 3, 2017

I'm watching but on the app and so I can't see the last episodes yet. Will come back to talk then!
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:37 PM on March 3, 2017

I liked it. I think the main flaw is simply the sweep of time and events they're covering kind of gives everything shorter attention. Like imagine if each segment of this had been a full season - I just think you'd feel the characters that much more.

But as an overview it's great, and hopefully a conversation starter for younger folks who don't know a lot about the stuff from the 70s. And I liked the touches in the last episode where the main characters flash back to the early years, showing the whole generational cycle of the thing.

(Also, despite that brief appearance as a character in ep. 3, I can imagine somewhere right now, Larry Kramer is HATING this. I'm surprised I haven't seen a link to him ranting that the show ignores ACT UP too much. I don't think he would be quite right about that, but that's just the way he is.)
posted by dnash at 7:56 AM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

That line from Larry to Cleve in the show is indeed what he said to him in person. I know that there was interest in having more of the ACT UP history, specifically the San Francisco history, in the show, but Cleve pushed back on it, for the reasons that he makes clear in the series, that ACT UP was critical of the Quilt. Which is indeed true: we were very critical of it. The leap directly to 1992 conveniently sidesteps the heyday of ACT UP here and makes that easier.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:24 PM on March 4, 2017


Harry Britt (Harvey Milk's successor on the Board of Supervisors. There are images of print media clippings, a character mentions him, but no historical video clips and no actor cast to play him.

Act Up San Francisco/Act Up Golden Gate.

Leather community
(link to FB thread by SOMA photographer Mark I. Chester.)

Hank Wilson (Wonderful SF gay activist who spanned from Briggs Initiative to White Night Riots to AIDS activism to Ammiano Mayoral write-in candidacy)

Howard Wallace (gay SF union organizer - was an uncredited extra in the Milk film)

Valencia Rose (they coulda shown Tom Ammiano performing comedy there.)

Leonard Matlovich (warning: sound)

Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club,which preceded Harvey's club and was founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and Jim Foster, all of whom were portrayed in When We Rise but the Alice club wasn't mentioned.

And the people they did have they could've made more of, like that Gwenn Craig was the president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club or that Pat Norman (played by Whoopi Goldberg) ran for SF Supervisor 3 times (and unfortunately lost, but was the first black openly lesbian candidate.)
posted by larrybob at 8:28 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

> Cleve Jones and the neighbor's baby subplot was a little odd, though.

Okay, I'm glad it's not just me. That seemed super random. The point that gay men do indeed have fatherly instincts is demonstrated just fine later on in the marriage fight, and the discrimination against and fear of HIV+ people is demonstrated throughout, so why did we need to spend fairly significant time on a subplot (that goes exactly nowhere) to demonstrate that Cleve once had tender feelings toward an infant?

Speaking of subplots, did I blink and miss an explanation for when Richard's wife disappeared?

Holy crap, I just noticed that Richard Socarides was played by his own little brother, who's an actor.
posted by desuetude at 10:29 PM on March 6, 2017

I just finished watching this. As a straight white woman from the southeastern US who was born in the late 1970s, I found it fascinating because I knew only bits and pieces of this history. The 1970s stuff I really knew nothing about, and I really liked the depiction of the struggles for intersectionality. The parts I have memories of were interesting to watch unfold. And it was great to cry all over again over the Supreme Court victories. I'm glad to read criticisms and further fleshing out of the story, and I think that it will lead me to lots of books I want to read, but I will say that it really was well done to reach a person like me.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:46 PM on March 7, 2017

I just finished this. I grew up pretty homophobic, in Michigan. And now I'm leading an lgbtq group at my office and watching this film makes me feel really really emotional. I'm pleased with the progress we've made, and terribly embarrassed and heartbroken over the culture I once participated in.
posted by rebent at 9:48 AM on March 11, 2017

"In the first night's episode, each of three focus characters encounters a 1971 issue of Life Magazine with an article on gay liberation. "

Dustin Lance Black gave several gorgeous interviews about this, where he talked about why he so badly wanted to do this miniseries on (Disney-owned) ABC rather than on HBO ... seeing that 1971 Life article in West Texas was life-changing for him, seeing gay people in mainstream media that his grandmother read, seeing GLBT people portrayed positively. He wanted the miniseries to be in the Disney-approved living rooms of every West Texas grandma in America, to reach grandmothers like his and kids like him. The series deliberately starts with the Life Magazine article rather than the Stonewall Riots themselves, because it was seeing GLBT Americans portrayed sympathetically in Life Magazine that changed his life, as a rural kid in West Texas.

"Is anybody watching this? If not, why not?"

The advertising for it was God. Awful. It's been advertised intensively for about 8 weeks, and I didn't know it was about GLBT history in the US until about two weeks ago, and then only because I know the symbols and signs ("Wait, there are 90 seconds of this ad but in like three seconds or so I see rainbow flags, is this a gay history miniseries? Maybe I should google it ..."). I think in trying to advertise it to those West Texas grandmas I mentioned above as an anodyne miniseries, they made the advertising way, way too limited and limiting. Like, they wanted to get everyone interested and THEN tell them it was a gay miniseries ... but they made the advertising so generic that nobody really got interested.

But anyway his goal was to make a miniseries that any American could watch with their kids, and THAT I totally approve of because sometimes teaching my kids about history is hard (while keeping it PG), and this miniseries will be very helpful in that regard! It manages to talk about very serious civil rights issues in a very family-safe way, and that is an under-appreciated virtue. So many civil rights movies/books want to go the road of "These are the TOTALLY HORRIBLE things that happened when group X fought for civil rights" which is very important! And yet, when I start to teach my kids about civil rights, it very much helps to have the PG version. They can learn the ugly specifics when they're older, but not enough people are doing kid-friendly overviews that we can share as a family, and I wholeheartedly support Black's miniseries for that alone.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:12 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lani Ka'ahumanu on bisexual erasure in We Were Here.

Andrea Billings on trans erasure in We Were Here.
posted by larrybob at 8:50 AM on March 12, 2017

Via OutHistory: Four historians on When We Rise: Susan Stryker, Emily Hobson, David Román, and Kwame Holmes.
posted by larrybob at 4:41 PM on March 13, 2017

This was fascinating to watch. I have to agree that I thought it was going to be good for me rather than entertaining, which is why I put off watching it for a bit. I think if I'd known it was a more personal gay history -- of Cleve Jones, Roma Guy, and Ken Jones, I think I might've watched it sooner. I hope there's another miniseries sometime following someone in ACT UP.

The switch of actors (and energy) between episodes two and three was really jarring for me. I liked the early part and the late, but they didn't really seem to go together.

Upon reflection, I also put off watching episode three, because it's hard to go back and relive the AIDS crisis. They honestly did it a lot more straightforward and less harrowing than I expected.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:14 AM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

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