United In Anger

I remember ACT UP as a bunch of people who would do anything to get AIDS seriously discussed by officials- hell by anybody. In the 80s and early 90s, gay men were often reviled as AIDS-infested refuse. ACT UP was founded to fight for their lives.

In his new movie, Jim Hubbard tells the story of the group. From The Hollywood Reporter:

Deutsch: Act Up Logo

Deutsch: Act Up Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making a confrontational movement accessible without diluting its life-or-death message, Jim Hubbard‘s United in Anger: A History of ACT UP offers a straightforward biography of the activist group as seen from within its ranks.

In opening titles making a few stark assertions — 40,000 people died of AIDS in the U.S. between 1981 and 1987 (others sources offer different figures), a period during which Ronald Reagan couldn’t say the disease’s name in public — the film establishes both the immense fear within the gay community and the way that fear and anger attached itself to uninformed, foot-dragging, or oppositional politicians and institutions.

Following an onscreen timeline, the doc begins with Larry Kramer‘s call for a protest movement in 1987, using copious period footage to show how quickly New Yorkers took to the idea. Video shot in meetings and on the streets shows a movement that, in laser-guided messaging and organization, contrasts with some current protest movements — a comparison made inevitable as we hear one ACT UP member suggesting they take over an official building “by occupying it with our bodies.”

With chapters focusing on major demonstrations at the FDA, Wall Street, NIH and White House, the film charts the movement’s evolving mood and expanding agenda. If bystanders at the time saw them as mainly making a lot of noise, Hubbard and his many interviewees cite an impressive number of successes arising from these events; sped-up drug approvals, lowered pharmaceutical costs, and various bureaucratic victories, seen in hindsight, allow veteran activists to express satisfaction they couldn’t show while chanting accusations or being hauled out of sit-ins in handcuffs. They also acknowledge how central ACT UP meetings became to participants’ social lives, with some members attending meetings every night; in between the die-ins and agit-prop campaigns, we hear, “ACT UP was very sexy.”

Probably hard to watch- I can’t watch AIDS-era movies without a deep, overwhelming grief- but I will. We can’t afford to forget.

One comment on “United In Anger

  1. Chris Morley says:

    If you can, watch ‘San Francisco’s year zero: We were here’ which was shown by the BBC this February (and in the US by PBS).
    It is excellent, and although I found myself dissolving in tears, it is also intensely validating. In the face of the unfolding tragedy, the SF community around Castro mustered an amazing response. We have a lot to be proud about.

    In 1981, the flourishing gay community in San Franscisco was hit with an unimaginable disaster. Through the eyes of those whose lives changed in unimaginable ways, this film tells how their beloved city was changed from a hotbed of sexual freedom and social experimentation into the epicentre of a terrible sexually transmitted ‘gay plague’.

    From their different vantage points as caregivers, activists, researchers, friends and lovers of the afflicted and as people with AIDS themselves, it shares stories which are intensely personal from five key individuals – a florist, a hospice worker, an HIV+ artist, a female nurse, and a political activist.

    Speaking to our capacity as individuals to rise to the occasion, this is the story of the incredible power of a community coming together with love, compassion and determination.

    Here’s an interview with the filmmaker David Weissman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4VFKJLrASI

    http://wewereherefilm.com/ – The film’s website where you can stream it, or buy the DVD


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