ABC's 'When We Rise' shows emotional journey of gay rights activists

Reggie Aqui Image
Monday, February 27, 2017
Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black discusses "When We Rise."
Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black discusses "When We Rise."

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Oscar-winning screenwriter of the film "Milk" is bringing his latest project to ABC7. The ground-breaking four-part miniseries starts Monday at 9 p.m. It shows the emotional journey of Bay Area activists in their fight for equality.

"When We Rise" tells the story of San Francisco AIDS Quilt creator and activist Cleve Jones and his nearly five decade-long fight for LGBT equality.

"I love telling my stories," he told ABC7 News.

The series weaves in the struggles of other local activists following their experiences with racism, AIDS, drugs, love, and loss.

"I think that it gives me the sense that that there was some purpose, some meaning to all the pain. There are certain people I can't talk about still and yeah, it's because it hurts. But it is also because I love them so much," Jones said.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black wrote and directed "When We Rise." ABC contacted him four year ago to start the project and he spent more than a year researching it.

"I think it's about time we tell stories of the people who fight for equality in this country, and they can survive and thrive," he said. "These are untold stories, particularly outside the LGBT movement."

'When We Rise' creator Dustin Lance Black talks with ABC7

Watch full interview with Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black on his new ABC mini-series "When We Rise."

"When We Rise" is based on real life stories and told by actors Michael Kenneth Williams, Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker and Rachel Griffiths. Parker plays Roma Guy, founder of the Women's Building in San Francisco and Griffiths plays a lesbian mother and nurse who was one of the leading caregivers at San Francisco General Hospital at the height of the AIDS crisis.

The couple shared their stories with Black and the series writers.

"They really fell in love with our family," Guy said putting air quotes around "family."

The four-night mini-series doesn't hold back any punches. It is a gritty and real portrayal of life in the LGBT community in San Francisco starting in the 1970's, celebrating its good times and bad.

Transgender activist Cecilia Chung and her friend Ken Jones share their stories about making their way in the shadows of HIV, drug addiction, and racism in San Francisco's Tenderloin District.

"Trans, unemployed, and positive, and hooked on crystal meth," she recalled.

"Particularly for me, it was a challenge, because there weren't that many other men of color in this neighborhood," Jones said.

"When We Rise" is ABC's first dramatic mini-series on social issues since roots in 1977.

Watch the four-part miniseries starting Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC.