When We Rise: Van Sant Directs First Episode of ABC Gay Rights Series

Gus van Sant and Dustin Lance Black, who collaborated on the 2008 biopic Milk, team up again for When We Rise, an ambitious seven-part mini-series, to be aired on ABC, a breakthrough for network TV.

The series follows the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last phases of the U.S. Civil Rights movement from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to the successes of today.

The first two-hour episode, directed by van Sant, follows the stories of the young Arizonian Cleve Jones (Austin McKenzie/Guy Pearce), who would become a major LGBT activist working alongside Harvey Milk; the gay, African American, Vietnam vet Ken Jones (Jonathan Majors/Michael Kenneth Williams), who has to contend with both the straight world’s homophobia and racism within the gay community.

It also chronicles the initially closeted women’s right activist from Boston, Roma Guy (Emily Skeggs/Mary-Louise Parker).

The lives of these individuals are transformed when they arrive in 1970s San Francisco, facing politicians and police that desperately try to purge the city of its “deviant” citizens.

This episode premieres at the 2017 Palm Springs Film Fest.