How a great TV show can bring people together...
Jenna Martin

27 Feb 2017 - 11:28 AM  UPDATED 3 Mar 2017 - 11:09 AM

ABC Studios in the US had commissioned, filmed and wrapped its new miniseries, When We Rise, long before Donald Trump won the election.

Perhaps it was seen as a fitting accompaniment to what many assumed would be a swift transition from Obama to Clinton: a time of increased focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, greater female representation in government and legal victories for the LGBT community, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Instead - under President Donald Trump - When We Rise couldn't be more poignant or more necessary.

Every generation has its Very Important Miniseries

In the '70s, Roots made an entire nation wake up to the centuries of disenfranchisement and discrimination faced by African Americans. In the '90s, And The Band Played On revealed the struggles faced by those on the front line in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

When We Rise is exactly the show to reflect the feelings of unrest, anger and frustration of 2017, not just in the US but around the world. Covering the history of LGBT activism from the 1969 Stonewall riots to the 2015 legalisation of same-sex marriage, When We Rise is grand in its scope and passionate in its message.

While the gay rights movement frames the show’s timeline, it’s clear that the word “we” is key. The Women’s Movement isn’t forgotten, nor is the fight for black Civil Rights. This is a miniseries keen to remind a world that almost no one is safe from discrimination - but if we’ve learnt anything from history, it’s that everyone is stronger when they work together.

"I think if Donald Trump watches the show he might like it."

It's not just a show for lefties

"This show is not a war," declared Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. "Every single person in this world is a minority, depending on how you slice the pie, and this show is about how we are connected."

That bears repeating in the current political climate. Black has said that he made the series specifically for people like his own family: Christian, Southern, military:

"I think there's a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump who will love this show. I don't see this show as only trying to speak to half a country. I think if Donald Trump watches the show he might like it."

Trump will get a chance to watch it

In the US, the series was originally meant to be broadcast over four consecutive nights but the schedule was changed at the last minute to accommodate President Trump’s first speech to Congress on February 28.

ABC will now screen the premiere episode on February 27 and the following episodes consecutively from March 1. There’s an irony in the series being moved to accommodate a President who seems to rail against everything the show preaches. Indeed, the screening - just a few days after Trump’s latest executive order which rolls back President Obama’s transgender bathroom guidelines - feels particularly timely.

Art can change lives

Australian actor Guy Pearce, who plays gay activist Cleve Jones, is acutely aware of the importance of art - and of movies in particular - as a way of making people feel they’re not alone.

“I’ve had so many people come up to me saying, ‘Oh my God, that movie [Priscilla: Queen of the Desert] changed my life. It made me come out to my parents,’ ” Pearce said.

“I was just an actor in a movie, but I understand the effect movies have on people … When young people come up and say, ‘I was closeted and that film really enabled me to change how I treat and relate to my family and friends,’ it’s incredibly empowering.”

People are listening

Airing a series like When We Rise on broadcast US TV - and SBS - in prime time can only be a good thing. It can only mean that people are listening. In an age when reproductive rights for women are being rescinded, travel restrictions are being slapped on minorities and when the LGBT community are having hard-fought victories overturned, it’s never been more important to remind people their voices are being heard.

The series is well worth watching, not only for the incredible cast - including Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and our own Rachel Griffiths - but for the reminder that it took a lot of hard work to get where we are today. And going backwards would be even harder.

Watch the trailer here and the first episode below:


When We Rise is streaming now on SBS On Demand, fast-tracked from the US as part of the 2017 Mardi Gras season. It will premiere on SBS Saturday March 11 at 8.30pm.

Watch the first episode right here:

More on The Guide
The acclaimed mini-series ‘When We Rise' is coming to SBS On Demand
The drama will be fast-tracked from the US and available on SBS On Demand from March 1. It airs on SBS on March 11.