“It’s a Sin”: 80’s AIDS Parallels COVID-19

As with COVID-19, AIDS had its deniers and its conspiracy theorists. It had government heads who didn’t take it seriously and scads of ordinary people who, feeling unthreatened themselves, believed the victims were dispensable. And just like COVID-19, AIDS led to hundreds of thousands of people dying largely out of sight and often alone, cut off from those who knew them best and loved them most. Watching this series, you may think that the real sin is how we turn viruses into moral and political battles. John Powers, NPR, regarding It’s a Sin

If that sounds too heavy, I’m here to tell you that the five-part series It’s a Sin (HBO Max) is actually a highly worthy combination of drama and comedy realistically based on the experiences of a group of young friends as they become aware of AIDS in 1980’s London.

And, although the parallels to COVID-19 are obvious, it wasn’t on purpose: Russell T. Davies‘s series was filmed before the current pandemic.

Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture: “The show’s best quality, and the thing that saves It’s a Sin from being an unrelenting dirge, is that it refuses to slide into regret or underplay its characters’ joy.”

And Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, calls it “really funny and truly moving” and “the best thing I’ve seen this year.”

John Powers, NPR, sets it up:

The series begins with the coming together of five gay — or gay friendly —characters. There’s cocky, self-involved Ritchie (played by pop star Olly Alexander) who wants to be an actor. There’s campy Roscoe, who’s been booted from his home by his Nigerian Christian family and hooks up with a Conservative MP (Stephen Fry). There’s sturdy Ash Mukherjee, an attractive teacher, and the touchingly naive Colin, a young Welshman who works for a Savile Row tailor. Holding the house all together is Jill (Lydia West), another aspiring actor based on Davies’ real-life best friend.

Notably present also is Neil Patrick Harris, a sort of mentor to Colin.

Regarding the COVID parallels, Hannah Ryan, CNN, makes a great case. An excerpt:

Thousands of lives lost, people dying alone in hospital, denied the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones, with only medical staff to offer comfort in their final moments. Funerals devoid of crowds of mourners, misinformation and confusion over the surging crisis spread rapidly across the globe…

However, she adds, “the context is different.” Whereas AIDS victims did often die alone, it was because of shame and stigma, not fear of contamination.

Inkoo Kang, Hollywood Reporter:

…(T)he most novel element of the show — other than its exquisitely controlled tonal swerves — might be its depiction of how patients’ families often dealt a secondary blow to friends and boyfriends…These family members aren’t all monstrous; one mother illustrates how survivors eventually created new communities among themselves. But the series also portrays how the parents of patients were capable of inflicting their own form of cruelty: first by effectively demanding that their children lead double existences, then by displacing their anger and sense of betrayal at being shut out of their sons’ lives onto those who love and accept them most.

Karina Shah, New Scientist, reminds us that AIDS isn’t just history:

The mortality rate from HIV is now lower with the development of preventative drugs, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and antiretroviral therapy. But living with the devastating impacts of HIV or AIDS is the reality for millions of people, especially those living in low-income countries where therapies are hard to access.

It’s a Sin‘s favorable reviews are barely marred by minor criticisms here and there that mostly relate to certain characters getting short shrift. As it turns out, though, the creator had wanted three more episodes; they didn’t get the needed funding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *