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In the works for four years, the arrival of Dustin Lance Black’s When We Rise is still surprisingly timely. ABC’s eight-hour drama, chronicling the history of the LGBT rights movement in the United States, premieres Feb. 27 — just one month after a decidedly less progressive administration assumes power in the White House.
That is not lost on Black. The Oscar-winning writer behind the Harvey Milk biopic says that he’s already seen a great deal of hostility toward the project. “This show is under attack by the alt right online,” he said, referring to the currently popular umbrella term for extreme conservatism — often a euphemism for racist white nationalism. “This show is not a war, we are not against anyone.”
Unlike many other panels at the winter’s TV critics press tour, Black and his cast broached the current divisive climate and President-elect/Apprentice producer Donald Trump before being prompted by reporters.
“Right now, at this time, I see a very divided country and a nation and pain,” said Michael Kenneth Williams, noting that it’s not just for the gay community. “We need to be reminded there are a lot of stories of triumph, and courage and this is one of them. It’s a great time to tell this, to celebrate our diversity and our unity.
Speaking to the election specifically, Black insisted that he didn’t see the series’ potential viewership as divided on party lines. “I think there are a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump who will love this show,” he said. “I don’t see this as a show that only half of the country will like. I didn’t write the show for half of a country.”
Actress Rachel Griffiths compared the project to her own childhood watching Roots for the first time in Australia and getting a relatable education on the struggles that black people have faced in America and around the world for centuries.
Black was asked at one point if he felt hindered by writing When We Rise for a broadcast outlet. And while he joked about not being able to film nudity, he said the only real battle came over the use of the word “fag” — which ABC lawyers initially told him he could not air. He worked with the network to keep it in the show to avoid dumbing anything down.
“I do think it’s a necessary conversation to have right now,” added Black. “It’s a conversation about what it’s like to be a minority in this world and how important it is for us to work together.”
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