BINGE-R #24: When We Rise + Fauda
WHEN WE RISE S1
Streaming Service: SBS on Demand
Availability: All four episodes now streaming
When We Rise is an old-fashioned mini-series with a modern topic: the history of the gay rights movement in the United States. The first of four episodes is just up on SBS on Demand with the remainder due next week, and it’s all telling incidents and turning points. What’s surprising, and perhaps also indicative of a conservative approach to storytelling, is that it was made for ABC, one of the three still vast American free to air networks. If the show had been made for HBO or a streaming service directly it probably would have taken more chances stylistically and sexually, but in securing access to an older, mainstream American audience the risk-taking is in telling the story entirely from the viewpoint of the LGBT community.
The initial episode, written by the show’s creator Dustin Lance Black and reuniting him with Milk director Gus Van Sant, presents three young gay Americans who will become leading activists: Cleve Jones (Austin P. McKenzie) is fleeing a psychologist father who tells him his sexuality is an illness that “can be treated”, Roma Guy (Emily Skeggs) is a budding organiser for female equality, and Ken Jones (Jonathan Majors) is an African-American U.S. Navy sailor trying to make sense of his conflicting religious faith and insitutionalised discrimination.
Their meeting place is a conservative San Francisco of 1973, where the journeys are uphill and the abuse is systemic. Whenever you think the narrative is succumbing to broad strokes, there’s an almost casual moment of everyday hatred to inform the era – police dispense beatings with vitriol (it must be said that shooting riots is not Gus Van Sant’s forte), or archival material reveals an ignorant holder of authority. What’s telling is that there’s no real gay community, as it’s fractured on gender and race lines; it’s not just straight people that reject Ken for his skin colour.
The broad sweep of history often fails to make for vital drama, as it’s the cracks and little known corners which provide the richest illumination. That has started to happen elsewhere, but When We Rise not only provides a broad outline, it puts down a place marker at a turbulent time in America. The gay rights movement had to endure terrible setbacks, and that might happen once more. As the older Cleve, played by Guy Pearce and serving as a narrator, coolly observes, “I could go to my grave a criminal again.”
>> Bonus Binge: Netflix recently added Paris is Burning, Jennie Livingston’s influential 1990 documentary about New York’s ball community, an LGBT subculture that provided a telling examination of sexuality and race in America.
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 12 episodes now streaming
Neither faith nor politics are prominent in the tense Israeli thriller Fauda. Set amidst a clandestine war in the West Bank and focusing on both an Israeli undercover unit and Palestinian militants, the show’s combatants are divided so completely that they barely need to articulate their opposition. Their shared language is the thrust and counterthrust – the assassination bid and suicide bombing – of urban terrorism, and the show has a gripping narrative that’s pared down to episodes little more 30 minutes long each. A fuse of one type or another is always lit.
The idea that the two sides are such opposites that they’re actually twinned extends to the similarities in protagonists. The Israeli officer Doron Kavillio (Lior Raz, a co-creator of the series) and his Hamas quarry, Taufiq Hammed (Husham Suliman), are both stocky, bearded, uncompromising men in their forties. Doron, retired 18 months previously, believing he had killed Taufiq, but quickly returns when he learns the Palestinian is alive and secretly at work on a new campaign. “It’s stronger than me,” Doron insists to his wife, who can see him returning to his obsessive former mindset, and the duo’s life and death struggle operates on an addictive level that contravenes any rules either might nominally adhere to.
The tightly wound events are more often set in homes than command centres, and that domestic intimacy adds layers to the adversaries’ tarred humanity and shows the lengths to which they will go. Some of the strongest scenes are between the women clustered around Taufiq, particularly a confrontation that pits his supposedly widowed wife and widowed mother against his younger brother’s fiancé, whose desire to be a martyr is something Taufiq knows all too well how to manipulate. Loss is a constant from the first episode onwards, which only fuels the enmity and adds to those drawn in to the conflagration. It makes Fauda grim, gripping viewing.
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