Film Premiere: deepsouth Documentary & HIV/AIDS Phobia – Part 1

| July 24, 2012

deepsouth Documentary & HIV/AIDS Phobia Part 1

By Jeremy LaMaster

“We don’t have high paid lobbyists; we don’t have a lot of money. Here are some of the things we do have: the most people living with HIV & AIDS, the most poverty, the most sexually transmitted infections, the most people without health insurance, the most vulnerable populations, the fastest growing epidemic, the least access to healthcare, the highest mortality rates, and the least resources to deal with this crisis.” – Kathie Heirs, CEO AIDS Alabma

Kathie Heirs’ blunt summation illustrates the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the southern United States. Hiers and her organization AIDS Alabama, which is part of the Cultural Advocacy Mobilization Initiative (CAMI) at Advocates for Youth, appear in a new documentary entitled deepsouth. Directed by Lisa Biagiotti, the documentary follows the stories of individuals and communities fighting the spread of a HIV/AIDS epidemic in the domestic south. deepsouth examines the different facets of a culture that renders this epidemic invisible and perpetuates the silence around this issue. deepsouth shows that understanding the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is less about ‘that one time you should have used a condom’ and more about the compilation of factors (e.g. abstinence-only sex education, religious values, individualism, racism, homophobia, etc.) that lead to an epidemic.

The film premieres this week at the International AIDS Conference, which is under way here in Washington, DC. The conference and city is buzzing with hope for an AIDS free generation. With recent medical advances, like the FDA approval of Truvada and more clinical trials for HIV vaccines, Secretary Hilary Clinton’s goal of an AIDS free generation seems within reach. Yet, the focus on medicine and prevention do little to address the stigma and discrimination of HIV positive individuals or the real causes of a global epidemic. This week alone, HIV statistics on black men became consistent talking points and were publicized with few parallel messages on the discrimination, profiling and stereotyping of black men and the relations of sexism, racism, and heterosexism to a larger HIV/AIDS epidemic. Echoing Elton John, the key to developing a true global commitment to ending HIV/AIDS lies in deconstructing a fear of HIV/AIDS (HIV/AIDS phobia), a judgment of those living with it, and addressing other HIV/AIDS risk factors such as poverty and lack of education.

deepsouth pioneers this path by examining the cultural factors that contribute to discrimination through the lens of three main stories. Biagiotti follows Josh, a young, gay black man living with HIV in a rural community, Monica and Tammy, coordinators of a support group and retreat for HIV positive individuals, and Heirs, who tours the country desperately seeking federal aid for the epidemic.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Biagotti lays down the focus of her documentary:

The reality is that HIV is less about safe sex and more about safety nets. HIV is symptomatic of so many other social ills. Silence, stigma and judgment create layers of secrecy. They can’t be “fixed” without a deep dive into the underlying reasons behind why people are quiet, what they’re ashamed of and why they’re afraid.

The documentary’s premier is tonight at 7PM at E Street Cinemas in Washington D.C., and will screen tomorrow, Wednesday, July 25 at both 3PM and 7PM.

Stay tuned for a second blog post later this week that reviews the film and discusses the role of HIV/AIDS phobia and racism in HIV/AIDS activism.

Jeremy LaMaster

Jeremy LaMaster is a recent graduate of the Pennsylvania State University & begins graduate school this fall at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where he will be pursuing a Master’s in Women’s & Gender Studies. This summer, Jeremy has been interning with Advocates for Youth in Washington, DC, a youth focused non-profit that advocates for comprehensive sex education as well as other issues like contraception access and HIV/AIDS. This fall, Jeremy will begin work with the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Rutgers.

Twitter: @JeremyDaMonsta


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