The Movie Waffler Documentary Review - How To Survive a Plague | The Movie Waffler

Documentary Review - How To Survive a Plague

Directed by: David France

David France's first feature documentary is a harrowing look at a disease that divided a nation.

It's year six of the AIDS epidemic, 1987 in Greenwich Village, NYC. With no medical innovations to treat the disease, AIDS is 100% fatal. Panic surrounding this epidemic drives a backlash of blame along with anti-gay violence. Hope is shutdown as hospitals routinely turn away the dying. Fighting for their lives, patients and advocates take matters into their own hands. Two coalition groups emerge to magnify the epidemic and pressure the FDA to rapidly research finding a cure. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group) force AIDS into political conversation with dramatic protests and presentations.
Newer generations may understand that the AIDS battle concluded with a cure, but the fight to turn this fatal death sentence into a curable disease, despite the national neglect, isn’t widely spoken about. Before the breakout of AIDS and AIDS activism, the gay community had no political voice, no spotlight in pop culture, and gay marriage was an unspoken topic of conversation. Director David France admits to being fired from a job in 1984 for being gay, because “that’s how it happened back then.” This was the abysmal norm in recent decades that seems too far out of touch to be in the past century.
Then-President Ronald Reagan addressed the topic of AIDS for the first time, after 20,000 Americans had already died from the disease. He called the epidemic “Public Enemy No.1,” but advocated only a modest federal role in AIDS education noting, “After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don’t medicine and morality teach the same lessons?”
France doesn’t chronicle the fight for survival amongst AIDS victims; he reveals a part of our nation’s history both deplorable and unspoken, revealing amateur archived footage exposing one of the nation’s darkest moments of neglect in recent history.
The fight became religious and political by 1989 when the Catholic Church issued a statement claiming that churches condemn the immorality of condoms, putting them in direct opposition with US Heath Care. Protests at Cathedrals erupted with the question "How many more have to die? Prayers won't save those affected with the disease. You're killing us!” The documentary also exposes its political villains—Ronald Reagan (who invested minimally toward AIDS education), New York Mayor Ed Koch (who described ACT UP’s actions as “fascist”), President George H.W. Bush and New York archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor (both of whom tried to focus the attention on gay promiscuity).
Activists pushed for further education when the “cure” AZT became available on the market for $10,000 in 1989 prolonging life, but not eradicating the virus. The issue finally became pushed in political debates when Bill Clinton addressed the matter, “This is not a matter of personal attack, it's a matter of human loss. I feel your pain."
France exposes one of the most politically hushed crusades in our nation’s fight for survival. Those inflicted with the disease were not treated as physically ill, but as national pariahs shunned from every medium of life. The relentless struggle by advocates, many of whom couldn’t answer whether they believed in their own survival, is not only heartbreaking, but remarkable in exposing how change can happen if you demand it.