Plague is a story of realized hope, of smart people who made themselves smarter, of concerned people who knew they were right about the AIDS epidemic and the government's apathy toward it. These people educated themselves on medicine ("They all had to become scientists to some degree," notes one participant), they attended hearings and spoke up, they integrated themselves into the FDA's drug-approval process and they didn't stop. "Activists created a system that was able to do everything faster, better, cheaper, more ethically and more effectively," says a key player. The ultimate result of their efforts was the development and mass use of protease inhibitors, the life-saving medication that has been making people with HIV test undetectable since 1996.
Ed Koch recently referenced ACT UP's protest during mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1989 in his op-ed defense of Pussy Riot's arrest. He called the actions of the musicians a "hate crime," implying that ACT UP were guilty of the same and dismissing them as "unjustifiably angry with John Cardinal O'Connor," who had just made the preposterous claim that condoms would facilitate the spread of AIDS. Some people didn't get it and they never would. The Plague scenes of Jesse Helms publicly spitting venom at gays are infuriating, as is one of our first President Bush, who explains that AIDS research was getting a high proportion of money "per capita," despite there being little hope of effective treatment at that time. It's as if he thought that the value of human lives -(gay human lives)- was finite. The condescension toward gays and ACT UP specifically was abundant.
Take a look at written paper - AIDS: Is it a Modern Plague?.
all been foretold. This new reality has set the stage for the time whenthe Third Temple will be built, and Jerusalem will be the spiritual centerof the world. (23) But this is not all. The AIDS epidemic corresponds topredictions of a world-wide contagious plague, (24) and the thinning ofthe Ozone layer fits the descriptions of the sun's shield being removed.(25)
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What could have been a dry retelling from the key talking heads who in fact survived the plague, is instead a briskly paced showing of how things were. France, a first-time filmmaker and journalist who has covered AIDS since the very early days, combed through over 700 hours of footage shot by over 30 sources involved in the movement to assemble this film. How To Survive a Plague is a remarkable capsule, not just of ACT UP's protests, civil disobedience and achievements, but it's also snapshot of a nine-year period (starting in 1987) of New York history, during which what we think of as citizen journalism today was getting its start.
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But beyond modern parallels, How To Survive a Plague is valuable as a history lesson in a time when people seem to have little motivation to seek one out. Gays can easily take for granted our progress, our ability to live openly, our current relationship with HIV, which for so many is no longer a killer but a nuisance. That relative ease wouldn't be possible without the work done by groups like ACT UP.