Naina Khanna on Tyler Perry

WARNING: Spoilers for Tyler Perry’s Temptation ahead, although if you’re reading this, you probably already know what they are.

When I heard that in his recent film, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Tyler Perry gives his female lead HIV as moral punishment for pursuing an affair with a sexy tech mogul while still married to her upstanding, if boring, husband, I resolved to see it as soon as possible, so that I could write about it here. [And a confession of my own: in the interest of camp, I wanted to see Kim Kardashian’s big screen debut.] I’ve been too busy to get to the movies, but Naina Khanna of the Positive Women’s Network–USA has an op-ed at poz.com that probably says everything I could have said, and more. Khanna writes–as an HIV-positive woman of color herself–in damning terms about the violence, both cultural and medical, that Perry’s work does to women of color living with HIV:

For the estimated 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, Tyler Perry’s Temptation preys on the worst of all that. For this, I charge him with at least 300,000 counts of self-doubt and recrimination, a million moments of fear and hopelessness, hundreds of failures to disclose, countless refused HIV tests, thousands of missed medical appointments, suicides, homicides, and setting us back in our HIV response for over than a decade.

I must confess to never having seen any of Perry’s work, but he is an extremely successful filmmaker as far as the box office is concerned, even as he regularly draws the ire of film and cultural critics alike. At an academic conference at Northwestern, appropriately titled “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable,” black academics picked apart Perry’s work for all of the ways that it reinforces norms of heterosexual patriarchy and conservative Christianity, both of which seem to be on display in Temptation.

No doubt, HIV/AIDS is a serious disease, and one that disproportionately affects African American women. Representations of that reality should do justice to the complexity of HIV-positive women’s lives, struggles, and successes. The disease is not a blunt storytelling instrument of moral condemnation, and using it as such is an insult to the women whose everyday courage proves otherwise.

SEE ALSO:

AV Club’s write-up of “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable”

Positive Women’s Network blog post on Temptation (Waheedah Shabazz-El, a founding member of the group, longtime member of ACT UP Philadelphia, and oral history narrator for this project, is quoted therein)

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NYC AIDS Memorial Unveiled

Design for New York City AIDS memorial by Studio a+i. Image from Architizer.

Design for New York City AIDS memorial by Studio a+i. Image from Architizer.

The final design for the New York City AIDS Memorial, which will sit at the intersection of West 12th and Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, has been unveiled. The memorial will occupy a triangular site near the former St. Vincent’s Hospital, which offered treatment for people with AIDS early in the epidemic. As one commenter snarked on Architectural Record, the canopy in the new public park bears an unfortunate resemblance to a bus shelter, whereas the (more attractive, in my opinion) original winning design (also by Studio a+i) consisted of a grove of trees surrounded by three large mirrors, giving the effect of an “Infinite Forest.”

Original plan for New York City AIDS memorial: “Infinite Forest” by Studio a+i. Image from NYC AIDS Memorial.

The memorial raises questions about how to commemorate an epidemic that has so thoroughly devastated New York City, and where 1.4 of the city’s population (and 5% of Chelsea residents) today is reportedly living with HIV. Does the construction of a memorial further contribute to our sense of living in a “post-AIDS” world (which the advent of life-saving drugs in the late 1990s seem to inaugurate) while the epidemic rages among white gay men as well as in the most disenfranchised communities? Does placing the memorial in a wealthy, gentrified section of the city erase the loss experienced by other parts of the city that have also been heavily affected–say, Harlem or the Bronx? I realize the irony of my asking the first question, as someone actively involved in recording and writing the history of AIDS in US communities of color, but I think it’s one that the idea of the memorial encourages us to consider. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that San Francisco has had its “living memorial” in Golden Gate Park since 1991.

UPDATE:

From actup.org, a bonus rendering of the memorial at night! The lighting on the structure does make it seem somewhat less like a bus terminal.

Rendering of New York City AIDS memorial in nighttime. Image from actup.org.

How to Survive a Plague

by Dan Royles

The ACT UP/TAG documentary How to Survive a Plague, which has a theatrical release set for September 22, has an official trailer…

…as well as a tumblr of ACT UP images that also invites users to submit their own artwork about current issues. 25 years later, the posters that ACT UP and the associated art collective Gran Fury put together are not only arresting, but sadly still relevant.

Gran Fury poster from 1988. Source: How to Survive a Plague
Gran Fury poster from 1987. Source: How to Survive a Plague

All signs point to this film being an out-and-out tearjerker; the trailer alone made me cry. But the larger point seems to be not just to elegize a movement and the millions lost to AIDS, but to inspire a new generation of activists to address their own social justice concerns. In his review, Frank Bruni testifies to the film’s sense of hope for the potential of mass action to effect real change. Indeed, last year’s Occupy movement seemed to echo ACT UP in its tactics and targets, if not in the precision of its message, and the two groups collaborated on an action in April and one over the Fourth of July, and members of ACT UP Philly helped train Philadelphia Occupiers in direct action methods when the encampment was in place late last year. While ACT UP has largely faded outside of a few strongholds in the urban mid-Atlantic (ACT UP Philadelphia being the only continuously active chapter, by their own claim) the growing economic inequality in the United States coupled with the energy of Occupy protesters has some hoping that a new truly progressive politics might be possible in this country. Whether it will materialize, and whether it will in the end look anything like ACT UP or Occupy remains to be seen.

Incidentally, my goal in undertaking the African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project and African American AIDS History Project is also to inspire, as well as to inform. Of course, the interviews that I conduct are a critical piece of the research for my dissertation. But beyond that, by recording voices that have been left out of many popular and academic accounts of U.S. AIDS activism and collecting digital copies of materials through the African American AIDS History Project site, we’re creating a repository of materials that will not only be available to scholars, but will hopefully inspire people to get involved with important issues at a grassroots level.

Cross-posted at Ye Olde Royle Blog.