Mar 23

AIDS: “It’s a Sin”/”How to Survive a Plague”

AIDS in the 1980’s is the backdrop for the five-part 2021 series It’s a Sin (HBO Max), a highly worthy viewing that’s realistically based on the experiences of a group of young friends as they become aware of the plague in London.

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, called 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.

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.

Compare this to the excellent 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague, about AIDS hitting the U.S. and the activism that followed.

Named in critic Lisa Schwarzbaum‘s “10 Best Movies of 2012,” David France‘s documentary tells the story of both ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), two coalitions responsible back in the day for pushing such organizations as the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, the drug companies, and the general medical establishment to do more regarding AIDS research and treatment.

The Story Via Review Excerpts

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: The film “begins in 1987, six years into the AIDS epidemic, when the group Act Up formed in Greenwich Village and proceeded to march on New York’s City Hall in an effort to shame Mayor Ed Koch for his lack of response to what was then known as the ‘gay plague.'”

Sara Stewart, The New York Post:

Featured ACT UP leaders include writer and agitator Larry Kramer; Peter Staley, a former closeted bond trader who went on to become one of the group’s most eloquent spokesmen; and Bob Rafsky, whose angry outburst at a speech by then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton evoked the now-famous phrase ‘I feel your pain.’
Video of protests, strategy meetings and the near-dead is interspersed with TV images of President George H.W. Bush merrily playing golf and Sen. Jesse Helms denouncing the ‘revolting’ victims for not keeping their ‘sodomy’-related problems to themselves. (In one of their more lighthearted actions, the group memorably unfurled a giant condom over Helms’ house.)

Amy BiancolliSan Francisco Chronicle: “When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament to extraordinary human bravery. It stands as one of the most heartbreaking and suspenseful sagas of the year.”

Jun 25

“The Out List”: Public Figures Who Are Openly LGBT

On Thursday HBO will premiere a documentary directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders called The Out List, about well-known and/or should-be-known LGBT individuals who are publicly out. The 16 interviewees are Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Neil Patrick Harris, Dustin Lance Black, Lady Bunny, Cynthia Nixon, R. Clark Cooper, Wade Davis, Twiggy Pucci Garcon, Larry Kramer, Janet Mock, Suze Orman, Christine Quinn, Jake Shears, Lupe Valdez, and Wazina London.

The official description of The Out List:

Alternately humorous and poignant, The OUT List features a diverse cross-section of accomplished leaders from entertainment, business, sports and public service sharing intimate stories on childhood, understanding gender and sexuality, building careers while out and reflecting on the challenges still facing the LGBT community. Against the backdrop of historic Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage and financial equality, subjects recall joyous moments of acceptance and romance, along with painful instances of intolerance and discrimination, offering unique modern perspectives on being out in America.

Buzzfeed notes that watching this film is “almost as if you are peering into a therapy session. Neil Patrick Harris shares his thoughts on gay parenting, while Lupe Valdez explains how she found herself as the first openly lesbian sheriff in Dallas, Texas. Some of the anecdotes are humorous, and others are heartbreaking, but all reflect upon what it truly means to grow up ‘out’ in America.”

An The Out List trailer can be seen below:

Why is the Out List needed? Why is it important to hear from public figures who disclose their identity or orientation? One main reason is that it helps those who are still struggling with who they are. Other reasons are represented in the following quotes from some who’ve recently emerged from the closet (and aren’t in the documentary):

Anderson Cooper, journalist: “It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true. I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.”

Jason Collins, pro basketball player: “I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too.'”

Lana Wachowski (MTF), producer and director: “…(W)hen I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others…If I can be that person for someone else then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value.”

Orlando Cruz, boxer: “I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”

Megan Rapinoe, U.S. Olympic soccer player: “I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out. I feel everyone is really craving [for] people to come out. People want — they need — to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ U.S. of A.”

And here’s what one leader and activist said way back in 1978, just months before he was assassinated:

Harvey Milk“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”