When We Rise

TV review by
Dana Anderson, Common Sense Media
When We Rise TV Poster Image
History of the gay rights movement in docu-drama style.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Portrays a cause bringing different people together to create social change. While some of the outcomes of the protests are ambiguous or seem negative -- police crackdowns causing physical harm, Harvey Milk's assassination, strained relationships -- the situations are thought-provoking and imply that change is happening, despite setbacks.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young Cleve Jones remains true to himself, despite pressure from his psychologist father. Positive social relationships between people who are fighting for the same cause. Some mixed messages in discussions and depictions of likable characters as young adults choosing to sell drugs and prostitute themselves to get money. One character in the women's movement says she doesn't want to align with gay men because they get arrested for "public sex and prostitution nightly."


Use of billy clubs, tear gas, and physical force by police to break up protests. One young character is threatened by a group of young men with a knife and beat up. Verbal hostility toward men by women who did not think men should participate in the women's rights movement and toward lesbian and heterosexual women in the women's rights movement. The assassination of Harvey Milk. Discussion of war violence and depiction of bombs exploding from a ship onto a shore. One of the character's love interests is killed on a Navy ship in an explosion.


Passionate kissing, groping, characters undressing each other in bed with further sexual intent implied. A polyamorous woman who says "we should abandon the heterosexual model" of monogamy gets upset with her partner for having sex multiple times with another woman. Prostitution discussed. One character tells another how to spot undercover police and warns him what sex act is considered a felony.


"Dyke," "faggot," "balls."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion about smoking marijuana. Main character is often seen smoking cigarettes. One character comments, "Your summer of love turned into a winter of heroin a long time ago." Scenes on a Navy ship and in bars include characters drinking or ordering alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When We Rise is a miniseries that tackles the history of the gay rights movement from 1972 onward. Real-life activist Cleve Jones' retelling of his memories in the movement takes center stage among other personal narratives depicted in the show with San Francisco as the backdrop. Stories of the lives of gay characters in the Navy, in the peace movement, and in the much-conflicted National Organization for Women add personal subplots to the main theme of equal rights. There's frank talk about the culture of drug abuse, teen homelessness, prostitution, and violence against gay people in San Francisco in the 1970s (" ... get rid of the radicals, hippies, and gays") when 2,800 gay men were arrested in a year.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byDareJ March 4, 2017

Strength and unity found in diversity

Imperfect but inspiring. Intersects the very different lives of three gay people, two men and a woman, from very different backgrounds as they join forces to st... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bycashmeousside March 2, 2017

Very introspective

None of the sex or violence (even the part where Harvey Milk is murdered) fazed me but what did was the scene where Marvin died from AIDS. Watch out for that i... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the first episode of WHEN WE RISE, the main characters appear in their younger years. Peace activist and openly gay Cleve Jones, an 18-year-old from Arizona; closeted Navy man Ken Jones; and NOW activist Roma Guy (at first struggling with her sexual identity) come to San Francisco and seek their community and, eventually, their place in the gay rights movement. The rest of the series follows their personal and political stories.

Is it any good?

While the excellent acting and compelling storyline in this series likely will draw viewers' attention, the often stilted messaging can dull the drama. There's a lot of history that remains to be widely known in the struggle for equal rights for all Americans. When We Rise tells the history of the gay rights movement through the stories of people with very different points of view but with the shared experience of a point in time in the history of a struggle. On the flip side, the sometimes soapy drama can detract from the serious equal rights message. That's unfortunate, because When We Rise has many poignant, emotional moments about being true to oneself and allowing that truth to propel you into fighting for rights.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it means to be part of an equal rights movement such as the one depicted in When We Rise. What actions can you take to stand up for a social justice cause that needs your voice?

  • Talk about some of the choices that the characters depicted in this series made when they were young. How did they affect them as older people?

  • Discuss the ways in which the young activists in San Francisco in the 1970s faced very serious risks: lack of safe, clean places to stay; little or no money for food; discrimination; and even the risk of random acts of violence. How is today's climate different? How is it the same? 

TV details

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Themes & Topics

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