Sunday, February 3, 2013

Acting Up

 #moviereview #howtosurviveaplague

At the height of the AIDS epidemic, I was a child and only vaguely aware of the crisis.  As a teen in the late eighties and early nineties, I do remember seeing the "Silence = Death" posters and t-shirts with the iconic purplish-pink triangle, but I realize now that I did not know the full scope of what it all meant.  So I was intrigued to watch the documentary How to Survive a Plague on Netflix Instant.  Nominated this year for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, How to Survive a Plague chronicles the organization ACT UP, and its offshoot TAG, from 1987 to 1996 and its effort to pressure the government to prioritize AIDS research and the manufacture and release of drugs to fight the virus and its effects.  The film is rich in archival footage of ACT UP meetings, protests against the government and various agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, and interviews with lead activists at the forefront of the movement, both living and deceased.  And I was impressed with the power of activism.  Not only did these activists--gay and straight, young and old, male and female, sick and dying-- use protest in the streets as a means of garnering attention to a plague that was killing hundreds of thousands (including putting a giant condom on the house of Senator Jesse Helms), but they educated themselves and learned how to navigate the bureaucracy of drug testing protocols and partnered with  and prodded drug companies for solutions, ultimately leading to the AIDS drugs today that now prevent HIV from being a certain death sentence.  Their activism, their courage, and their lack of silence saved millions of lives.

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