Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with Dustin Lance Black about his miniseries “When We Rise,” which tells the true story of LGBT activism over 45 years.
Black says he’s pleased with the critical and viewer response — unlike anything he’s ever experienced, he says — but now wants it to be used as part of the high school curriculum about the social justice movement.
Black first started working on the series when he heard that ABC was optioning LGBT stories — a network that his conservative military family in the South trusted. “It was just one of those once in a lifetime opportunities…when would I get a chance again to introduce LGBT families to my family,” Black said. “Literally to my family in the South, in this conservative area, so we could start to understand we’re not quite so different.”
TV Review: ABC’s ‘When We Rise’
Black also said that ABC allowed him to spend a year traveling across the country to find new names in the LGBT advocacy movement, rather than bringing back the names many are already familiar with. He wanted to include those who had been involved in the movement their whole lives, and had come to the LGBT rights movement from other movements such as women’s rights or the peace movement.
“And eventually I had found this little group that had formed a makeshift family in 1972 in San Francisco and even though many of them weren’t natural leaders at the time, they stepped up,” he said.
Black wasn’t planning on depicting Cleve Jones, the role played by Guy Pearce, but eventually realized how rare a figure Jones is in the activist arena, having stayed an activist long past the three to six years Black described as the average lifespan of an activist.
Black also described the backlash from the “alt-right” — which he describes as a “cleaned-up” version of white supremacists — the series experienced after its trailer went viral.
“It was a reminder that, unfortunately, this is coming at a really critical time in our world and in this country and we need to be having these conversations,” he said. “I do not think that most people that voted for Trump are that racist and hateful, and I’m hoping to not only share the story with LGBT people and people interested in equality, but also with some of the folks out there that may come from families like mine that are conservative families.”
Black had a message for the President, who he doesn’t think has taken the time to watch “When We Rise.” “I don’t think he would be doing the things he’d be doing if he’d seen it,” says Black. “That’s unfortunate. He clearly takes the time to watch the news, to check in on how he’s doing. How about the fact that you’re the president of the United States, sir, and you represent all of us? So when we put out onto a major network a story of a good portion of your population’s lives could you please tune in, sir, and you might understand why it is we’re so upset at some of the things you’re doing.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast here: