By Ben Carpenter, Second Year, Film & TV
LGBTQ+ History Month means something different to each member of the community. For me, I feel an obligation to understand and respect those lost in the AIDS pandemic that tore through our community less than 40 years ago, the effects of which are still seen today.
With this being a keen interest of mine, you can imagine I was elated to watch It’s a Sin (2021), the new Channel 4 drama about the lives of a group of friends in London during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s which quickly became All4’s biggest ever instant box set. With the show being such a hit, and many of my friends being more than aware of my interest, I have found myself answering a range of questions about the virus – from questions regarding treatment and statistics and most commonly: where can I find more films and TV shows that feature HIV/AIDs?
Fear not, dear readers! For Ben is here to provide you with 5 educational and entertaining films and tv series that feature or focus on the AIDs epidemic. Sit tight my loves, this is going to be a depressing ride.
1. Pose (2018-)
Ryan Murphy finally struck (consistent) gold with this drama focusing on the Harlem ballroom scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. With a wide range of diversity both in front of and behind the camera, Pose handles the AIDS epidemic with both sensitivity and strength and never presents anyone as a victim.
Despite some intense snubbing at both the Emmy’s and Golden Globes of its mainly transgender cast of colour, Pose has proven to be a huge hit with audiences with season 3 in production as we speak. In the mean time you can catch both seasons of Pose on both Netflix and BBC iPlayer. You’ll be voguing in no time.
2. Holding the Man (2015)
You can stop voguing now. Only tears with this one.
Based on Timothy Conigrave’s autobiography of the same name, Holding the Man tells the story of Timothy and John Caleo’s relationship beginning at school in 1970s Australia. Following their consistent uphill battle with the conservative homophobia of twentieth century Australia, the struggles of young love and the growing threat of the AIDs epidemic, Holding the Man is both a tale of heartbreaking ignorance and struggle and a testament to the beauty of same sex relationships in a society insistent on brushing them under the rug.
With a touching script adapted from equally touching source material, genuinely breathtaking chemistry between the lead actors and being available to stream on Netflix, Holding the Man is a must-see this LGBTQ+ History Month.
3. How to Survive a Plague (2012)
Time to feel empowered. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and produced using over 700 hours of archive footage, How to Survive a Plague tells the story of New York based activist groups ACT UP and TAG and their fearless work to obtain effective treatment from the money-hungry pharmaceutical companies and FDA.
Featuring footage of many individuals who succumbed to the virus years before the film’s release, How to Survive a Plague is a truly inspiring watch and acts as proof of the influence we can have as a collective when taking our health and wellbeing into our own hands, and put pressure on those who very literally hold the key to our survival. It’s largely due to the work of these activists around the world that you can contract HIV and still live a long and healthy life today, making How to Survive a Plague essential viewing.
4. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Whilst the activists seen in How to Survive a Plague may have gone about things in a more politicised sense, there were also many people on the other side, simply desperate for survival and willing to break any law to do so.
One of these people was AIDS patient Ron Woodrof, played by Matthew McConaughey, in an Oscar winning performance, who worked to smuggle not yet legalised HIV medications over the border from Mexico into Dallas, Texas and sell them to those most in need.
Based on a true story and also starring an Oscar winning Jared Leto as an HIV infected trans woman (which is of course controversial in itself), despite it’s obvious flaws and Oscar-bait nature, Dallas Buyers Club finds it significance in its representation of a poorer AIDs demographic in an industry where most HIV representation focuses on its middle class patients. A bold and realistic film, you can find it on Amazon Prime Video.
5. Buddies (1985)
The final film on my list takes us all the way back to the very first film to ever deal with the AIDs pandemic: Buddies (1985). It is directed, produced and written by Arthur J. Bressan Jr., who was himself infected with HIV and died of AIDS-related complications just two years after the film's release.
The film tells the story of AIDS patient Robert and his assigned ‘buddy’ David and their friendship over the course of Robert’s final months. With many of the actors themselves having HIV and the film being made on a shoe-string budget, Buddies is a truly unique film and although it has its flaws it acts as a time-capsule of sorts, showing the viewer a world where knowledge was limited but many people, even strangers, still had love to give.
You can find the film, amongst other remastered classics focusing on the AIDs pandemic, on Amazon Prime Video.
What is your favourite film depicting the HIV/AIDS crisis?