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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

25 to Life: Part 1

In the recent post of 'Films of Color', I mentioned a few films that were created, directed, and produced by people of color. 25 to Life is one of the films that made the list. The documentary about this young man who built up the courage to stop hiding his status of of being HIV positive has stuck with me ever since I walked out of that theater. (Movie trailer and a word from the producer below)

During the last week of June, I couldn't help but notice the constant reminders of how important it is to get tested for HIV, especially if you are active in unprotected sex with people who you don't know their status. The public service announcements, new articles and social media postings were circled around the same reminders of New York City's annual Gay Pride Parade. Was the connecting of the dots of the gay community to HIV done intentionally? No one on air would say it out loud but the message came across the airwaves loud and clear.


What I haven't heard lately were the statistics of who has HIV in the United States. Here are the facts, which you can also find on

  • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 1.1 million people living with HIV, and approximately 1 in 6, or 15.8%, don't know they are infected.
  • Gay, bisexual, as well as men who have sex with men, particularly young African American, are the ones who are mostly affected by the virus.
  • When the CDC breaks the numbers down by race, African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV.
  • There are nearly 1,144,500 people 13 years and older who are living with HIV... 180,900 of them don't even have a clue that they have it.
  • White, Black and Hispanic/Latino males who have sex with men remains at the top of the list of those who are newly infected with the virus.
  • Black heterosexual women, followed by Black heterosexual men are next in line. 


Those of us old enough to remember forget what the world was like thirty years ago when humanity was struck with the news of how this incurable virus was claiming the lives of people on a global scale. In 1982, the media introduced the acronym GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) to the world, which caused an insurmountable amount of fear, hate crimes and prejudice toward the gay community.

The main topic media continually neglects to inform readers and viewers about, is that HIV is also contracted through blood transfusions. Thirty years ago, children and heterosexuals who contracted the disease by blood transfusions faced a social death sentence if they decided to disclose their status. 

Do you remember Ryan White? I recall seeing news stories on how this teenage boy was being scolded at school and in his community after being diagnosed with HIV after a blood transfusion in 1984.


There were plenty more like Ryan White who chose to reveal their HIV status. There were also others who decided to keep their status a secret for years because they were scared of how their friends, families and their community would treat them. 

This was the case for William Brawner, a heterosexual man who kept his HIV status a secret for 25 years. His story is no longer a secret and he shared his journey in the documentary, 25 to Life - Sex. Betrayal. Faith. Redemption.

I got a chance to catch up with producers, Leah Natasha Thomas and Khaliah Neal, after the screening of 25 to Life, which premiered during the American Black Film Festival on June 22 at the SVA Theater in New York City. The after screening party was held at Housing Works, a non-profit organization that assists those with HIV/AIDS. Both Thomas and Neal sat down with Arts of Cultures to discuss the film and what they hope the audience learned from William Brawner's story.

Vincent Harris, who sits on the board of Housing Works, was also in attendance and took a moment to sit down to share the importance of supporting those with HIV/AIDS and his thoughts of 25 to Life.

In the following video Leah Natasha Thomas reminds us that HIV is not a gay disease. HIV is not an intravenous drug user disease. HIV is not a poor man's or rich man's disease. HIV is every body's disease. 

See below for Khaliah Neal's and Vincent Harris' insight on the film. In the meantime, check out the trailer of 25 to Life and keep your eyes and ears peeled for when it hits a film festival near you. 

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