PBS has announced the release of the new Frontline documentary Endgame: AIDS in Black America, which traces the epidemic’s trajectory in the African-American community over the last 30 years..
Writer-producer Renata Simone examines the disease through a multi-pronged approach, weaving interviews with black icons like HIV+ basketball star Magic Johnson and Julian Bond, the former president of the NAACP and staunch supportor of gay rights, as well as those deep in the trenches of the war on AIDS.
For Simone the course of the AIDS epidemic in America is about more than just science: “The film is about race in America as much as it is about HIV. How a virus has exploited our inability to deal with our problems around race,” she says. “I hoped to show how the big, abstract social issues come to rest on people every day, in the limited life choices they face. The story of HIV in black America is about the private consequences of the politics of race.”
The statistics are staggering: African-Americans, who account for slightly less than 13% of the population, make up half of all cases of HIV. In Washington, DC, alone, 7.1% of black men are HIV positive. (The CDC defines an epidemic as affecting 1% of a given population.)
But just as there are many explanations for the explosion of HIV infections among black people—government indifference, church propaganda, cultural bias, shame, lack of resources—there are numerous solutions, as the range of voices in Endgame—religious figures, activists, scientists, educators—demonstrates.
Still, as Phil Wilson, president of the Black AIDS Institute, and one of the many diverse voices in Renata’s highly anticipated documentary, observes, “We’ve been at this for 30 years now. We are at a different point in the evolution of the crisis. We need to be talking about our endgame.”