By Jesse Brooks
A new documentary, called “End Game: AIDS in Black America, will air 10 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10, on Public Broadcasting Network (PBS), by award-winning filmmaker Renata Simone.
The film, in which this columnist played a part, takes viewers on an unprecedented two-hour exploration of one of the country’s most urgent, most preventable health crises, uncovering the layered truth around HIV/AIDS through interviews with basketball legend Magic Johnson; civil rights pioneer Julian Bond; leading doctors, health workers, educators and social activists working on the front lines of the crisis.
The documentary also features pastors around the country, many of whom have been divided on the response of the Black church to the epidemic over the years.
Simone shows me talking openly about my past and how internal homophobia stemmed from the homophobia I experienced as I grew up in my family, in church from my community.
Then there’s Nel, a 63-year-old grandmother who married a deacon in her church and later found an HIV diagnosis tucked into his Bible, dated a year before their marriage.
There is the interview with teenage rap duo Tom and Keith, who call themselves “Bornies,” children who were born with the virus in the early 1990s and survived after their mothers died.
These intimate portraits are presented against the backdrop of the culture, politics and social inequities that allowed the virus to spread unchecked over the past three decades and today complicate the efforts to get to the “end game.”
Speaking of her personal connection with HIV, Simone said, “I don’t know of family members, but directing and producing HIV documentaries since 1985 I’ve met people and get to hear their stories.”
“It is through their stories that they become family, so when something happens to them, I feel it,” said Simone who produced the 2006 award-winning FRONTLINE series “The Age of AIDS” and the first national series on HIV in 1989.
Three years in the making, this groundbreaking documentary film tells the story of how, from the earliest days, prejudice, silence and stigma allowed the virus to spread deep into the Black community.
Shot coast to coast in Los Angeles, Oakland, Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.; in churches, clinics, a high school classroom, a prison, a nightclub, a restaurant kitchen and on the street.
“The film is about race in America as much as it is about HIV, how a virus has exploited our inability to deal with our problems around race,” said Simone.
Marsha Martin of Get Screened Oakland sums up the 30 years of the epidemic in the Black community.
“We have achieved some things as a group of Black people in America because the civil rights movement got us to some places. But at the same time, AIDS is in it everywhere, showing us all the places that we have missed, saying, ‘Look over here, look over here, and look over here!’”
As Phil Wilson, head of the Black AIDS Institute, tells it, “We’ve been at this for 30 years now. We are at a different point in the evolution of the crisis. We need to be talking about our End Game.”
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