Over 30 years ago, Carrie Broudus saw her life "crumble before her eyes" when she mistakenly thought that she was HIV positive. In that moment, she explains that she experienced for a moment the type of fear that most HIV positive individuals face every single day. Broudus is now a leading activist on issues confronting women living with and vulnerable to HIV and AIDS.
She was an outspoken and dynamic panelist at the USC Visions & Voices screening of "Even Me," an award winning documentary film that debunks stereotypes about HIV and AIDS by interviewing members of communities of color who are older than 50.
What is most intriguing about this documentary by filmmaker Megan Ebor is its portrayal of the initial reactions it captures of people when they learn their diagnosis and then the way it shows how their lives have since progressed. When Lloyd first found out he was HIV positive, he continued to have unprotected sex, despite the possible consequences. Looking back at his decisions, he explains that he was scared and didn't know how to cope. Thelma, similarly, explains that she "gave up on life," and started using drugs. Reflecting on her actions, she explains that she saved herself by relying on a greater power, joining support groups, and volunteering in the community. Wanda tells her story stating that, "The worst part was hearing the words. It terrified me. Not knowing what it was or being able to see it and touch it or feel it. I felt like I was drowned." Wanda later joined support groups and talked to individuals with whom she could relate to, learned how to properly use condoms, and "surrendered to God" when she realized the virus was bigger than her.
At the end of the screening, these individuals actually took the stage at USC's Ray Stark Family Theatre in the School of Cinematic Arts. Their courage to share their stories and pain with us deeply touched me. Having seen their fear in the film, I could only imagine what it took to stand together and decide to let us know first-hand what its like to be an elder of color living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles.
HIV and AIDS still hold a huge stigma in communities, largely because people remain uneducated about the virus. The documentary opened my eyes to the fact that HIV is widely considered a "gay man's virus," and is not recognized for what it really is– a human immunodeficiency virus. What shocked me the most, however, is that nearly all the film's cast members onstage expressed that their own doctors and nurses were scared of them. They each had distinct stories, but they all had one thing in common aside from their diagnosis: they were scared and people were scared of them.
This film and the panel, moderated by USC professor Karen D. Lincoln for Visions & Voices on February 25, did a superb job of accomplishing its goal of raising awareness. It disproved various misconceptions that people still have about AIDS today, which just goes to show that we still have a long way to go in educating ourselves about and improving the way we react to this virus.
Reach Staff Reporter Sara Azim here.