It Ain’t Pretty

“How to Survive a Plague” has had its D.C. release date moved back what feels like 15 or 20 times. I conducted my interview with the director last spring, and with every delay, I wondered if the documentary about the early days of AIDS was ever going to come to Washington.

It finally opens today, and now I think the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Because now it’s October, and we’re all being reminded that we can help cure breast cancer by buying yogurt.

“How to Survive” concentrates not on the period when AIDS activist groups started, but the period when they started being effective. They went from writing letters and sending petitions to doing things like storming church services and the lobbies of drug companies. They got press. They got attention. And they got stuff done.

What “How to Survive” teaches is that being polite doesn’t cut it. Then, AIDS was ignored because it was a “gay disease,” and that meant it didn’t belong in public discourse. Now, breast cancer is acceptable to talk about, but only because it’s been turned into something pretty and pink.

Maybe women and those who love them don’t need to get arrested for trespassing in order to get more funding to those who look for a cure — but what we can learn from “How to Survive” is that politely pinkwashing the issue might not lead to anything.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Vicky Hallett · October 12, 2012