Gilead Sciences and Liquid Productions, working with a number of HIV activists, has created a film called ‘My HIV… My Rules’. We sent our friend, Jason Alvey, to go and see what it was all about.
I consider myself a skeptic, so I went to the premiere of ‘My HIV…My Rules’ at the Covent Garden Hotel wary of the motives of “Big Pharma” for making the short film. But Gilead Sciences’ & Liquid Productions’ co-production reflected pretty well on all involved.
Released during the fourth National HIV Testing Week, the film’s timing couldn’t have been more apt – with stigma a persistent problem in the UK, it’s more necessary than ever to have people living with HIV depicted living positive lives and achieving their goals, and Angelina, Becky, Bisi and Sean discussed their different experiences of just that. It was an honour when Tom said he couldn’t make it and asked me if I could go in his place – as an ally of the HIV community I’ve felt privileged when I’ve gone to events like these, albeit a bit conflicted. I don’t live with the virus, and I doubt I was the target audience, but I’ve certainly been affected by knowing an ever increasing number of close friends who are. I also suffer with anxiety, so it was both empowering and uncomfortable at the same time to be surrounded by such determined people. Many who were present were living with HIV and making it ‘follow their rules’ – that’s quite an example.
The film didn’t look at the issues through rose-tinted glasses – Dr Alan Winston explained there are still health challenges associated with HIV infection, and it was important that people on treatment should start screening for them as well as monitoring their CD4 count and viral load. And the four subjects shared their experiences at getting what they wanted out of life by taking charge of their health – it wasn’t just key to living a happier and more successful life, but it could help in heading off future health problems too.
That came across as quite a challenge – I don’t have the same access to regular screening of kidney and liver bloods for example, but I definitely could live a healthier lifestyle, which could in turn benefit my mental health. If I find that difficult not living with the virus, I can imagine it might be even more challenging for many who do. The reality obviously won’t be as straightforward as the film made it sound, and I know from my own experience that healthier living isn’t a magic bullet solution for mental health issues either.
The film’s optimism was laudable, but it felt a bit like it skirted a bit too far around mental health, and it omitted trans people’s experiences of living with HIV entirely, which left me feeling uncomfortable – given Gilead’s resources there was no excuse for excluding a whole community. There was no questioning though how interesting and inspirational the stars’ examples were – I loved hearing Angelina’s determination to ‘grow old disgracefully’.
The event was addressed by activists Bisi Alimi (one of the stars of the film) and Lizzie Jordan, as well as Shaun Watson (HIV nurse at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital), and Bahar Turkoglou from Gilead Sciences. Many other tireless activists and health workers were there too, some of whom I had the pleasure of meeting (they know who they are), others whom I hope to on other occasions.
I learned a great deal from everyone I met, and left feeling inspired – in the 20 years since I came out and started having sex with other men, HIV has gone from being an ever-lurking terror to a long-term health condition which needn’t hinder anyone from achieving their life goals. The evening also highlighted for me that ‘My HIV…My Rules’ for all its optimism is only a starting point – answers to maintaining long term health will inevitably be more complex than just personal health management, and an optimistic medical outlook alone won’t get rid of stigma.
I’m left hoping too that Gilead will be more mindful of the trans community in future productions, and that organisations like Stonewall will use the film in schools. It’s an inspirational step in the right direction, and I hope it’ll be used as one of a number of tools in multi-pronged campaigns.
You can watch the trailer here: https://liquidproductions-1.wistia.com/medias/iggql28qwy
You can watch full film online at the Liquid Productions website: http://www.liquidproductions.co.uk/video/myhivmyrules/
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