I just attended a screening of the Oscar nominated documentary, "How to Survive A Plague."
***Spoiler alert I went into the screening fully expecting to be pissed that it was not a complete representation of the AIDS movement in America.***
I was not disappointed! It wasn't, the film depicted an important time in the epidemic from the perspective of one maybe two groups (ACT UP NYC and TAG). It left you seeing the epidemic from a gay white male perspective.
But, I was also surprised! The images are powerful. The stories are compelling. I saw the stories and could easily get past the gay/ white/ male/ labels and the incomplete telling of the epidemic and see a human story that would compel me to act. After all some of the issues raised are still very relevant in today's epidemic.
The biggest problem with the film in my opinion is the lingering feeling when the film ends that we have survived the plague. Yet, I know countless people who can easily say otherwise. I know countless people who can say the plague is not even being addressed in their community. The film will be celebrated and it should but with the caveat that those were not the only voices and faces in the epidemic in the early days and they are not the only voices and faces now. The voices of people of color, women, injection users, immigrants were missing. But as the saying goes, "The person telling the story controls the narrative." It should be celebrated with the asterisk we are still learning how to survive.
During the screening I attended one of the featured people within the film was at a panel discussion that followed. He was asked in response to the fact that the epidemic still rages today, what does he say to encourage/ inspire people today? He had no response. I am sitting in the audience in awe. Here I just watched two hours of a film where he is being touted as one of the heroes of this era. He is sitting before me stating he is still in the movement and yet he has no response. My mind is racing; a "WTF" is certainly rumbling around (sidebar: I do refrain from saying it).
What does occur to me are these few things...
- When a hero has no answers: Find a new hero!
- When a hero has no answers: Challenge them to come up with some. They occasionally need inspiration too.
- When a hero has no answers: Just check to see if they even signed up for the hero title.
- When a hero has no answers: Become your own hero. Find your own answers.
Tell your own story!
About Tiffany: Tiffany B. Dominique, Center for AIDS Research Community Advisory Board Coordinator and Recruitment Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania's HIV Vaccine Trials Unit. Tiffany conducts research projects focusing on HIV/AIDS addressing such topics as: the connection between HIV and IV drug use; how depression effects disease progression; and the latest one for an experimental HIV vaccine. Additionally, she actively seeks ways to ensure HIV+ women can access and receive health and social support services. Mrs. Dominique is also a Black Youth Vote organizer and spends countless hours mobilizing youth and young adults around issues of voter education and participation, environmental justice, and youth homelessness. Tiffany was raised in New Orleans, LA and although she had moved to Philadelphia 15 years ago still referred to New Orleans as home until her parents relocated to Houston following Hurricane Katrina. She has a series of poetry published by Thoughts In Black, Inc and contributed to South End Press' Anthology "What Lies Beneath".