GA Voice - - Outspoken -

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,


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