The story and strategy behind The Stigma Project. Recorded during the United States Conference on AIDS in September 2013. TSP Founders Chris Richey and Scott McPherson tell the story of how and why they formed the organization and how they ensure it’s success in today’s world. How the right combination of words and images, can move a generation to action and maybe even end HIV stigma.
Hollywood has often played a role in opening minds and moving society forward, but its lack of modern and accurate portrayals of people living with HIV is a root cause of stigma and misconception.
Since HIV was discovered in 1984, a magical twister hasn’t blown us all away. No farmhouses have fallen onto ruby-soled witches. And no one has mastered the art of traveling by bubble. But in the realm of the HIV epidemic, we are certainly not in Kansas anymore. We’ve reached the colorful land of Oz. Long gone are the stormy days of gray and gloom. We’ve seen extraordinary advances in modern medicine that have allowed for those living with HIV to live full, healthy, and happy lives.
But in 2013, you wouldn’t know this by looking through the Hollywood lens, where topics and stories have played a pivotal role in the progression of gay culture. As Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese once said, “Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.”
Hollywood has, since the invention of celluloid, played an important role in the advancement of our society and people’s ways of thinking. Often films allow us to open our minds and learn new things we may not have once understood or felt comfortable with. They allow us to take that first step down the road of yellow brick. Successful films like Brokeback Mountain or Milk offered the everyday American, who may not have known someone who was gay, a chance to witness the life of an LGBT person and possibly gain a new level of comfort around the subject that would eventually lead to their support for marriage equality.
But when I look back at the short and recent history of films that include HIV and/or AIDS (fact: it’s always both) in their plot, I find it impossible to think of a single one that has challenged our way of thinking or pushed our culture forward by bringing light to scenarios or situations that were true to today’s way of living for those with HIV. One that reflects the idea that having HIV is now manageable, and daily treatment with today’s medications can, and most likely will, reduce your viral load, significantly increasing the quality and length of your life.