Never Forget: How to Survive A Plague

In the Oscars there’s a interesting nomination hidden away – the AIDS documentary ‘How to Survive A Plague’ by David France. Covering the period where governments worldwide were dismissing it as a ‘gay’ problem and not really bothered about what happens to them (very wrong on both counts; like other epidemics these things don’t self select one part of the population, as much as those in power would love that) the clips and interviews on Democracy Now (rather than the triumphalist fist-pump of a trailer) bring home the reality of this period – well one reality:

I didn’t know about the political funerals – very moving. The fact that the official media didn’t cover these is an important one – people tend to forget that the media unlike today with Twitter and Facebook ignored whole histories and political actions – I remember the Pride marches I went on even in the 90s with tens of thousands of people or more not getting even a single ‘and finally’ on the main TV news (maybe the local news if you were lucky and nothing else was happening). In fact Pride wasn’t mentioned on the national TV news til Bob Geldof turned up before Live8 – yes 30+ years of Pride marches and it took an ex-pop star dropping in before another ‘more newsworthy’ event before it made the national news. That’s the politics of ignorance.

One problem I have about documentaries like this is summed up in David France’s statement about ‘became such a national then international movement’ suggesting it? all started in the States. No, there were already movements worldwide. That’s a problem of US gay history documentaries – they tend to suggest it all started there, which I know isn’t the case. That’s the problem of the States being such a dominant cultural force – I’d love to see more histories of the activism worldwide, but the money for making such documentaries? is in America, so that’s the history that gets told. While the local histories of similar actions across the world get lost. For one MILK there were many MILKs worldwide as people stepped up to fight for their rights, the band ‘played on’ not just in the States but everywhere (in fact that one had to cover the French research but it was downplayed causing much friction), the Angels weren’t just in America.

Still looks like a moving documentary though – the funeral and the rant to George Bush made me cry at the end – in that sense it is all our history, there is a unity of experience. I just wish that unity of experience had more diverse stories because I worry of a rewriting of history by the cultural imperialists for their own monetary ends? Or maybe that’s just me.

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