Filmmaker Renata Simone, who produced the first national series on HIV in 1989, took three years to produce ENDGAME: AIDS in Black America – a powerful documentary that premieres last night,on PBS. The heart of the two-hour documentary is the individual stories that illuminate how racism, stigma, ignorance and fear breed new HIV infections – despite the heroic stance of those fighting against the odds to stop the disease from spreading. In June of 1981 the reported cases what we now know as HIV/AIDs statred out with the first five patients were white. The next two were black. The sixth patient was a Haitian man. The seventh patient was a gay African American man who lived in Los Angeles. Most of those first patients died within months. There was no information, no treatment.

If In June of 1981, health official speculated that, “Oh, this is something among gay men here in Los Angeles”. And yes, some were white and a couple were black. No big deal. Dr. Gottlieb and others – had made an effort to publicize that blacks were among the first 10 patients who were infected with the then-fatal disease and that it was a sexual disease rather than one related to sexual orientation – would that have prompted black leaders to get involved? Maybe, maybe not. Remember, many gays were too terrified to act in those early days, too. But because the race of the two patients was omitted.

“The film is about race in America as much as it is about HIV—how a virus has exploited our inability to deal with our problems around race,” filmmaker Renata Simone says in a press release. “In part I hoped to show how the big, abstract social issues come to rest on people every day, in the limited life choices they face. The story of HIV in black America is about the private consequences of the politics of race.”

By: Karen Ocamb

Watch ENDGAME: AIDS in Black America on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Leave Reply