"We're too old, we're too wise, but actually we're too foolish," says Thelma, a 73-year old African-American woman diagnosed with AIDS in the film, "Even Me," a documentary short that highlights the rise of HIV and AIDS among elder members of communities of color.
The astonishing film, which screened at USC's Ray Stark Family Theatre on February 25, claims that 56,000 people in the United States contract AIDS every year. And 70 percent of women over 50 with AIDS are either African-American or Hispanic. AIDS, is in fact, the fourth leading cause of death among African-American women over the age of 49.
"Even Me," made by social worker Megan Ebor, is comprised of incredibly blunt, captivating and personable interviews with a wide range of elder African-American men and women who have been diagnosed HIV positive. They share their stories, provide advice, and educate the public.
Ebor starts the film with a touch of humor, asking about the frequencies of sexual activities among her interviewees. Joyce, poignantly responds to Ebor with, "I'm going to be sexually active until they get me in the ground."
The film, however, quickly thereafter turns serious, when Joyce reappears to discuss a sexual encounter with a man who had AIDS and yet never told her. Only when he passed away did she learn of his health status, and subsequently tested HIV positive herself.
Other stories ensue, as 62-year-old Lloyd discusses a blister that closed his left eye, and the doctor calming him down by sharing that the blister was not the problem, but then opening up a much darker secret. Thelma follows, uttering that a full 10 years after having sex without a condom did a doctor officially diagnose her with HIV.
Healthcare providers do not often talk with middle-aged and older people about HIV or AIDS, and older adults are also less likely to discuss these topics with their healthcare providers.
The film heightens when Thelma discusses the inseparable bond of her family and that they would "be there no matter what," but that once she really needed their unconditional love and support, "they weren't there."
Yet the very end of the film turned out to be the most powerful, when the following words are scrawled on the screen: "By 2015, 50 percent of people living in the United States with HIV will be over 50."
You could have heard a pin drop in the Ray Stark Theatre at this moment. Not a soul moved, twitched, or possibly even blinked.
As the lights slowly turned back on, none other than Megan Ebor, the filmmaker herself, walked onto a small stage in front of the projector. Bravely sharing her own aunt's story, Ebor described the grappling battle her family faced because of her aunt having not shared that she had syphilis. She said that doctors used her aunt's age as an excuse not to give her a full treatment.
Motivated by her aunt's story, Ebor said she created "Even Me" for educational purposes, with the hope that it will be shared in other communities. She specified, however, that the film is not meant to necessarily prevent HIV or AIDS, but rather to encourage testing in communities of people over 50 for early detection and early action.
When Ebor left the stage, yet another surprise was thrown at the audience, as the interviewees from the film itself made their way to the stage to a raucous applause. For around 20 minutes, they answered questions and provided more information, preaching about a lack of support systems and the difficulty to explain their circumstance to others. As they spoke, the audience became more and more touched by their words and inspired to create action.
One woman from the crowd offered a comment, roughly paraphrased here, that summed up this remarkable Visions & Voices event: "I have seen many movies, been to many talkbacks about HIV and AIDS, but none did it better than this 'Even Me.' This 'Even Me,' this is exactly what I am trying to tell people, but better."
With the power of its message and positivity of its reception, "Even Me" cemented its impact on the USC and Los Angeles communities.
Reach Staff Reporter Aaron Glazer here.