I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing film screening of “How to Survive a Plague” directed by filmmaker David France here at AIDS 2012. Words cannot describe how this film moved me to really understand the history of the HIV epidemic in the US. Walking into the beautiful screening room, I arrived a few minutes before the film began, and found the room filled with men and women from all over the globe, eagerly awaiting the start of a monumental film documenting the early history of the epidemic in New York City and around the nation.
As an HIV+ transwoman who is under 30, the early years of the epidemic have largely been a mystery to me. It existed only in the stories my older survivors would describe to me as a horrible time where they would attend funerals on a weekly basis. But there were very few images and videos ever shown to me or many of the young women and men I know fighting this epidemic.
Growing up as a child of the computer age, I realize that I’m most interested in seeing things for myself. Now it seems that if I can’t find what I’m looking for on YouTube or some other place online, then it almost might not as even existed from my perspective, and I know I can’t be alone in this sentiment. So the opportunity to see the faces and hear the voices of the members of ACT UP in their heyday was a rare treat, and I knew I couldn’t turn it down.
This film truly moved me by showing me the realities of peaceful demonstration and protest which led to monumental change worldwide. Sitting there in the darkness, I was followed the stories of young people, including some powerful teenage advocates for change, on their journey to affect change in their government’s response to HIV. Hearing the story unfold from the early years, where HIV was the death sentence that has become the hallmark of my own impressions of the early days, until the lifesaving discovery of multiple drug cocktails in 1996, I finally understood what it was like for those first pioneers. They were now real people to me, and I was even fortunate enough to meet some of them, as they were in attendance at the screening. To be able to thank them personally for their efforts at saving the lives of millions of people was an honor I’m not likely to soon forget.
The film concluded with a panel discussion with the filmmaker, Dázon Dixon Diallo, Jeffrey Crowley, and David Barr. Their comments were inspiring, as they all reflected on their experiences in the early years of plague which ravaged our communities, and moved a generation of people to band together, to act up and fight back, to demand the changes that would go on to save the lives of countless women and men. For me, the lesson and feeling I left with when the event concluded was pure inspiration to continue to fight for the changes that we still need to achieve in order to fulfill the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
”How to Survive a Plague” opens in theaters nationwide in September 21, 2012.