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Dustin Lance Black’s ‘When We Rise’ moves viewers to tears as first episode hits screens

By Samuel McManus

After months of anticipation, Dustin Lance Black’s When We Rise debuted on US TV last night (February 27) – and judging by the reaction of viewers, we were all right to be excited by the landmark drama documenting the history of the American gay rights struggle.

Based in part on the life and experiences of renowned LGBT and Aids activist Cleve Jones, the uplifting docudrama stars a host of big-names including The Hurt Locker’s Guy Pearce, Six Feet Under’s Rachel Griffiths, The Wire’s Michael K. Williams, and the one and only Whoopi Goldberg.

Produced by former Attitude cover star Black and Gus Van Sant – the Oscar-winning duo behind 2009’s Harvey Milk biopic Milk – the new eight-hour mini-series is airing in four instalments this week on US network ABC and charts the fight for gay rights over four decades from the early 1970s up until 2015.

After being eagerly hyped by stars including Charlie Carver and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as other LGBT stars and allies, including RuPaul and Chloë Grace Moretz, last night’s opening episode moved many viewers to tears as it followed the stories of LGBT people who were drawn to San Francisco in the early 1970s, only to be spurred into action by the police brutality they experienced there.

Viewers both gay and straight were quick to praise the show’s unflinching portrayal of the reality of gay life during an era when prejudice and state-sponsored oppression remained widespread.

“When We Rise just brought my mother, who grew up homophobic, to tears,” one viewer wrote on Twitter.

Another added: “When We Rise is officially my new favourite show. I’m literally in tears, holy heck.”

Others highlighted the importance of seeing LGBT history depicted so prominently on screen – especially given the current US political climate.

#WhenWeRise reminds me to thank the older generations of LGBT folks that went through so much for the rights I’m able to have today,” wrote one viewer.

@realDonaldTrump hope you’re watching @mike_pence hope you are too”, added another.

So, erm, a pretty good response then. You listening, UK broadcasters? We need this one picked up on this side of the pond STAT.

Speaking exclusively to Attitude earlier this year, Dustin Lance Black admitted that When We Rise – which has been in the works for several years – had taken on a greater significance since Donald Trump’s presidential election victory last November.

“We’re in one right now, a worldwide backlash where people are talking about building walls and closing borders instead of understanding and embracing their neighbour,” the 42-year-old told us.

“I hope to inspire a new generation to stand up and fight back and protect what we have in a moment of darkness like this.”

On the basis of last night’s reaction, that’s a mission the show certainly looks set to accomplish.

When We Rise continues in the US on Wednesday 1 March on ABC.

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