ABC’s upcoming When We Rise is promising to cover the LGBTQ rights movement like nothing on TV ever has. Focused on a diverse group of activists, the eight-hour miniseries will reportedly move from the 1960s to the present day, watching as its characters’ civil rights struggle gradually, imperfectly pays off. It’s a project of a scale and scope rarely exhibited on broadcast networks nowadays—a series claiming both societal importance and definitive artistic value. (Think Roots.) It’s currently slated for a February premiere.
Oscar-winning creator Dustin Lance Black, credited with writing the entire project, has assembled a formidable creative team for the series. Co-directing with him in two-hour chunks are his Milk collaborator Gus Van Sant, indie stalwart Dee Rees (Pariah), and Emmy-winning veteran Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing). And the cast is loaded with heavy hitters: The terrific quartet of Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Rachel Griffiths occupy the lead roles, and Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Rob Reiner, David Hyde Pierce, and many more are confirmed to appear in smaller parts.
There’s a feeling of forced gravity to this debut trailer, however, which heavy-handedly spans decades against a stock cover of the late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It’s too early to say whether When We Rise will meet the challenge of effectively dramatizing such a wide-reaching movement or go down the road of a missed opportunity like Stonewall and turn vital history into trivial cliché. Given the range of people represented here (specifically the transgender pioneers and activists of color key to the movement), as well as the team that Black has assembled, there’s reason to hope that this one rises to the occasion.