“When We Rise”

February 27, 2017

Anna Wyckoff

In the summer of 1972, Carol Ramsey was a musician playing on the street in San Francisco. Years later she would revisit the scene she knew so well from personal experience while Costume Designing When We Rise. The docudrama miniseries tells the history of the LGBTQ people who helped pioneer an offshoot of the Civil Rights movement. It covers the movement’s beginnings in San Francisco, through the height of the Castro district, into the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and then the effort to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage legislated by Proposition 8 which went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Ramsey felt the historical importance of the show meant costumes had to be faithful to the circumstances and experience of the characters. “These people are not wealthy. Especially in the early 70s, these kids had nothing.” Having access to some of the individuals being portrayed proved to be an incredible resource. “To have the real people be part of the crafting of the show and the look was really, really tremendous,” she says.

With only five or six weeks to prep for a show with four distinct eras, two full casts to costume, and a shoot that was divided between San Francisco and Vancouver, realism and accuracy presented extra challenges. Ramsey credits her crew, sympathetic producers, and show creator Dustin Lance Black. “I was so lucky to have a collaborator like that. We were on the same wavelength creatively.” She is thrilled that Black held out for a major network where the show has a much larger audience.

What was it like to revisit the time and place so close to her own? “I felt like I was directing me,” she chuckles. “But I think it really helped the show, I really knew that look. I knew what was cool then and what wasn’t.”

When We Rise premieres tonight, February 27th at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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