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Sex in an Epidemic 2010


Distributed by Outcast Films, 652 W. 163rd Street #45, New York, NY 10032
Produced by Jean Carlomusto
Directed by Jean Carlomusto
DVD, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
20th C. American History, Public Health, AIDS/HIV, Activism

Date Entered: 09/23/2011

Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University

For anyone too young to remember the wave of fear and paranoia that accompanied the discovery of AIDS and its first decade of destruction this documentary is an outstanding introduction. With a rich selection of archival interviews and news footage, the impact the disease had on the gay community in the U.S. is made vivid. Beyond the devastation of the disease itself much of what defined that era was the dialectic of activists, particularly Act-Up, enraged by government inaction versus right-wing leaders who shamefully used the disease as a platform to condemn homosexuality.

The early history of the AIDS epidemic, especially its impact on gay America, has been thoughtfully examined in films such as After Stonewall and And the Band Played On but to this reviewer’s mind only Sex in an Epidemic trains its focus so intently on the brutal politics that continue to hinder efforts to save those suffering from the disease.

It is crushing to be reminded of how repeated campaigns by activists to educate people on safe sex were quashed by homophobic puritans, such as Jesse Helms and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the disease on the homosexual lifestyle and disingenuously suggested abstinence as the remedy. It’s chilling also to see how political forces silenced not only Clinton’s Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for speaking candidly about masturbation but also George W. Bush’s Surgeon General Richard Carmona who resigned just days after challenging the Bush administration’s focus on abstinence in favor of broader sex education. The video concludes with a graphic stating there are 56,000 new HIV cases every year and a call to action urging testing, awareness, support, and education.

This is recommended viewing for those interested in activism, gay rights, political science, public health, and U.S. history.