This week, at the beautiful School of Visual Arts Theater in New York, WMC President Jehmu Greene took part in the red carpet world premiere and panel discussion for The Other City – a new film on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C. After watching the film, Jehmu and her fellow panelists (including U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, amfAR Chariman Kenneth Cole, and CNN Host Roland Martin) discussed the merits of the captivating film and concluded that The Other City is a groundbreaking work of art laudably exposing a horrific crisis in American society.
Two words – MEDIA FAIL! AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 34. Just let that sink in for a moment. Leading cause of death. And the HIV/AIDS rate of our nation’s capital exceeds that of West Africa. At least 3% of D.C. residents have HIV/AIDS – a number that blow the 1% threshold for a “generalized and severe” epidemic out of the water. Despite this shocking reality of life in America’s own backyard, our media has failed to report on the topic. Suffering from “AIDS fatigue,” the media has laid the HIV/AIDS crisis to the wayside with a declining number of news stories as well as US-focused stories. And in a culture where sex education amounts to a hesitant admission that sex indeed does occur, the media’s failure to fulfill its national public education responsibilities hurts American society at large.
Despite this media drought, Emmy & Peabody Award winning director Susan Koch, executive producer & BET co-founder Sheila C. Johnson, and writer & Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, had the insight to call attention to this pressing crisis with The Other City. Overcoming gender barriers in the film industry, this team powerfully wielded media to demonstrate how in the shadow of the Capitol lies a whole “other city” where minorities and the underclass suffer from a deadly epidemic.
Indeed, it is disappointing that even with African Americans and African American women in particular finally reaching national leadership positions, attention has not been drawn to the issue. ACTUP protesters at Monday’s event drew attention to this disappointment by repeatedly interrupting Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin with shouts decrying the Obama administration’s leadership failure.
But hope is not loss. Some media powerhouses, like Director of the National Council of Negro Women’s Research, Public Policy, and Information Center and Progressive Women’s Voices participant Avis Jones-Deweever, have stepped up to righteously bring attention to the issue. Avis has long argued the importance of increased research in microbicides – topical agents with the potential to reduce the chance of HIV infection. Development of these products has the potential to offer women who may be in unequal or abusive relationships the ability to protect themselves after sex, instead of before. Because, as J’Mia explains in The Other City, “if a man is going to black your eye you’re not going to insist he wear a condom.”
So thank you to Susan Koch, Sheila Johnson, and Jose Antonio Vargas for beating the odds to offer resounding media coverage of the HIV/AIDS crisis our underclass continues to suffer from. Busy schedules aside, we all must take the time to watch this inspiring film.