‘Endgame’ explores impact of HIV/AIDS

Kendra Graves | 7/18/2012, 8:10 a.m.

For the first time in two decades, the United States will host this year’s International AIDS Conference, to be held next week in the nation’s capital.

Despite having a large number of new cases of HIV/AIDS, America has seemingly turned a blind eye to an epidemic that’s been crippling communities within many of the country’s biggest cities for nearly a quarter century.

But with the return of the International AIDS Conference to U.S. soil, it’s also clear that Americans are realizing that they can no longer afford to look the other way when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

As government officials, medical professionals and activists attending the conference prepare to share knowledge and develop plans to deal with the epidemic both stateside and abroad, one local filmmaker is focusing her lens on the tremendous impact that the virus has had—and is still having—on America’s black community.

In her latest film “Endgame: AIDS in Black America,” Renata Simone shines a spotlight on the evolution of HIV within the African American community, presenting viewers with more than a dozen intimate interviews with men, women and youth who’ve contracted the disease; family and friends of HIV patients; medical professionals working to keep patients healthy and alive; activists working to raise awareness and encourage prevention; and high-profile figures, like Magic Johnson and NAACP chairman Julian Bond, who’ve influenced how black people view and address the epidemic.

A filmmaker whose work has won her numerous accolades, including two Emmys and a Peabody Award, Simone has been covering HIV/AIDS since its earliest days.

“Endgame” continues Simone’s thoughtful exploration of the evolution of HIV/AIDS.

Gay black men were among the first to contract the then- mysterious disease within the African American community. As “Endgame” reports, black patients who had contracted the virus were often underreported or not reported at all. Such oversights effectively ushered in a culture of silence when it came to the black community and HIV/AIDS.

As it is now, the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS is clearly no longer limited to gay men. Heterosexual African American women have quickly become the new face of the disease. One of every four new cases of HIV are contracted by women; two of every three of those women are black. The most common form of contraction and transmission among black women of all ages and socioeconomic status is heterosexual sex.

In a particularly poignant moment in the film, devout churchgoer and grandmother Nel talks about how she discovered she’d contracted the virus after finding her husband’s diagnosis in his bible.

Though it’s been several years since she learned she is HIV positive, the long pauses and shakiness in her voice suggest that she’s still coming to terms with the idea that her husband—a deacon in their church—had kept quiet about his potentially dangerous medical condition.  

“I think that’s one of the big messages of the film,” Simone says. “It’s that secrets—especially in the case of HIV—can kill.”

On the eve of last week’s premiere of “Endgame” on PBS’s “Frontline,” The Banner spoke with Simone about what black America and society as a whole can learn about HIV’s dark past and illuminating the humanity of those impacted by the virus.