When a hero has no answers...

Tiffany's picture

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...

  1. When a hero has no answers: Find a new hero!
  2. When a hero has no answers: Challenge them to come up with some. They occasionally need inspiration too.
  3. When a hero has no answers: Just check to see if they even signed up for the hero title.
  4. 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".

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Tiffany's picture

Thanks Amy for the comment. As a film buff I loved the film. As an activist I was conflicted about the film. In either instance, it reminded me of being a little girl seeing compelling images in my neighborhood and on tv that compelled me to act in the first place. There are more subtleties now that can make it easy to ignore and thus easier to become infected and affected.

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amycita's picture

I loved the film. But yes, African Americans have been left behind (and out of this discussion!) They need a chapter 2.

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Rashidah Abdul-Khabeer, RN MHS, PhD's picture

The film was interesting as a historical documentary relecting on a time when the enemy was visible,obvious and tactically capable of being assailed. People were dying, quickly and systems were failing to address the issue. The obvious enemy has been beaten into submission: science identified the virus, the pharmaceutical industry came up with the drugs, where cost were prohibitive and access to care was more limited, the heros prevailed in making changes. People are living longer productive lives in what is now referred to as a "chronic illness". I hear words like HIV/AIDS has been "normalized". Testing is widely available and treatment those infected is now the primary focus for preventing further spread.

So who or what is the enemy to rail against now? In my opinion, we are our own enemy...That is those who no longer see or hear about the chronic challenges that impact individuals required to take even one pill a day to keep the virus at bay; those whose personal sexual behaviors remain unchanged that put them at risk for continued exposure to the virus; those who fail to assure that education and information continually flow to those most at risk in ways and settings that will best effect change. Personal behavior change is the "enemy"; And as I am sure we all aware, there is no words spoken by hero or not, that can create the intense and urgent environment that is needed to fight with the same vigor, what was so onvious in the past.

Fight we must and we will whether one at a time or in groups, but we must acknowledge it isn't the same...

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tiffany's picture

Rashidah, thank you for your feedback. I wish I could have written your eloquent response. You have succinctly identified the challenges we face today. It is my hope that I continue to find a way to help people understand the relevance of the epidemic in their lives and the lives of those around them. It is my hope that even in some small way I help folk identify the urgency needed to combat the complancey that puts us all at risk of not achieving what is possible.

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