ABC recently announced that it’s picking up When We Rise, an eight-hour mini-series about the history of the gay rights movement. Milk’s Gus Van Sant will direct the first episode. Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black — who has been developing the project for two and a half years, since it was first announced in summer 2013 — will write the series and share executive producer responsibilities. Milk, you may recall, is a mostly White costume drama, and Black’s TV series are predominantly white too. So just how diverse can we expect this “gay rights history” to be?
“When We Rise chronicles the personal and political struggles, setbacks and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. civil rights movement from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to its successes today.”
Presumably Deadline’s summary means the show won’t just be a bunch of gay White dudes! But until we see a cast list, we won’t be sure. Other attempts to portray the LGBT rights movement have been discouraging: In 2011, when gay director Ryan James Yezak first released a fundraising video for his documentary project entitled “Second Class Citizens”, the numerous LGBT news clips included in the video largely excluded women, trans people and people of color.
Black and Van Sant’s online activities haven’t yielded many clues either.
Black has been relatively quiet online lately. His last listed IMDb writing credit was for the 2012 play 8 (about California’s Prop 8 marriage equality trial) and before that the tepidly-received Leonardo DiCaprio drama J. Edgar. His public profile has remained high though, through his recent engagement to 21-year-old gay celebrity/Olympic diver Tom Daley. Besides that, Black appeared in a Neon Trees video, and occasionally throws Twitter tantrums at writers who thought Milk was just okay.
Gus Van Sant made a name for himself a quarter century ago as leading director in the New Queer Cinema movement, with classic films like Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. Since then, he’s alternated between arty cinema and more mainstream stuff, although his recent films haven’t been very successful in either market. Promised Land, his 2012 fracking drama, never found much of an audience, while his most recent drama The Sea of Trees opened at Cannes to scathing reviews and boos from the audience.