A young and relatively unknown Angelina Jolie starred in this movie back in 1998. Not only does she die of AIDS at a time when women, especially lesbians, weren’t associated with the disease at all, but it highlights the ignorance and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS during the 80’s.
Rent, originally a musical, is about a community of seven people, and how a need as universal as paying rent intertwines them on Christmas Eve, 1989. What I think is remarkable about this particular story is the bond that forms when seeking solace and camaraderie with someone in your same predicament. Watching a Broadway musical on screen instead of the stage is one of my least favorite things ever, but nowhere else is there a more stylized rendering of the shared and interwoven stories about the importance of coming together in a time of need, without the stigma, and with all the hopefulness.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
This film got a lot of accolades and a lot of bad press. Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient in the 1980’s who decides to smuggle an experimental drug into the U.S. from Mexico when the drugs his doctor was prescribing seemed to deteriorate his health. Woodroof, a hyper-masculine, homophobic, cis-gendered male contracts the disease from a prostitute, and is disgusted with himself. The big, uplifting, character arc stems from Woodroof’s relationship with the all controversial portrayal of Jared Leto’s Rayon, a Trans Woman. As Woodroof’s and Rayon’s friendship grows, so does Woodroof’s compassion and understanding towards the Gay, Lesbian, and Trans community he helps with his smuggled drugs. Watch this if you are ready to fight the system, and cry.
The Normal Heart (2014)
Another film that showcases the AIDS scare, focusing particularly in New York City from 1981-1984. Originally a play, the film is about openly gay writer Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) and how he became an activist and a founder of an HIV advocacy group. The powerful parts of this film are imagery that isn’t far from what actually happened in hospitals during the time. At first, AIDS was considered a “rare cancer” found only in homosexuals, but no one knew anything about it. Doctors and nurses wear gas masks, haz-suits, and even turn patients away because they had no idea what they were dealing with.The film gives you a look at what happens when the medical community is presented with a crisis that they don’t know anything about. It’s the fear and the misunderstandings that lead to the stigmas about AIDS that still exist today.
This film hits hard on so many levels. Yes, it’s a young black girl getting repeatedly raped by her father, getting left behind in the “system” and getting AIDS from her father. Yes, it is sad. Yes, it will make you mad. Yes, it is a trigger movie, because something here will get to you. Past the challenging exterior, the film is poignant, hopeful, and enlightening. About halfway through, you can finally pick your jaw up off of the floor and start rooting for Precious (marvelously played by Gabourey Sidibe) and understanding the systematic oppression that she’s going through. Though AIDS takes a supporting role in this film, I applaud it because it doesn’t embody or identify the character. Precious is a person, who also happens to get AIDS, not the other way around.
For a bonus Tom Hanks Double Feature: Philadelphia & Forrest Gump
Philadelphia is a quintessential film about the flight of the an AIDS sufferer. Also, I’m pretty sure the love of Forrest Gump’s life, Jenny, died of AIDS. Put the pieces together in a re-watch and see for yourself.