AR TS REV IE W LGB T S ATLA NTA E N TE T RT N AINME
Dustin Lance Black (l) on the set of ‘When We Rise.’ (Photo by Eike Schroter)
With an emotionally resonant acceptance speech, Dustin Lance Black accepted the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2009 for “Milk,” a powerful tribute to gay political hero Harvey Milk. Could an Emmy be next?
It’s possible, even if the 42-year-old Sacramento native is too modest to admit that his latest screen ambition, “When We Rise,” the accomplished filmmaker’s tremendous seven-part undertaking chronicling the progressive uprising of the ’60s and ’70s, is certainly golden statue-worthy. Partly inspired by LGBT rights activist Cleve Jones’ memoir, “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement,” the miniseries sheds light on our foremothers and -fathers who raised hell – working to combat misogyny, homophobia and racism – to create a changed world for future generations of, as the show declares, “others.”
“When We Rise” is shockingly relevant, especially considering its half-century-old history isn’t just history – it’s the reality for queer people in Trump’s America.
How was the idea for “When We Rise” first conceived?
I toyed with the idea for a long time. After “Milk” was over, I started to think about other stories that need to be told, and I’m doing other LGBT-themed history projects, but I always wondered, “Was there something bigger, and how would I go about doing that?” As I met people – activists – along the way, I would sort of catalog their names in my head in case I ever got the chance to do something like this, and it was ABC saying they would actually pay for a year of research to really figure out who to depict that set it in motion.
So, it was always something I wanted to do, and I thought ABC was the right home for it. So then, at great personal expense, I set out on a journey. Let me just say nobody made any money off this thing. If anything, my poor agent and business manager were sweating it as we got it to year four.
You have Rachel Griffiths, Mary-Louise Parker and Guy Pearce, and then a terrific
cast playing them in their youth. How did the casting process work for this? Did you have any of these actors in mind while researching the real-life person they’re playing?
I never think about who will play the parts while I’m writing if it’s based on a true story because I’m working so hard to get the real people right. Certainly, by the time I was writing the finale, I started brainstorming, and I had one dream for (lesbian women’s rights activist) Roma Guy and that was Mary-Louise Parker, and I had one dream for Cleve Jones and that was Guy Pearce.
Then, I got this very emotional, beautiful phone call from Michael K. Williams (who plays Ken Jones, African-American community organizer) while I was at the airport scouting locations in San Francisco. He told me how personally meaningful the scripts were to him,
By CHRIS AZZOPARDI