mykki blanco and seven other artists made films about the black aids crisis

In a world where 1 in 2 gay black men will contract HIV, these films are important.

by André-Naquian Wheeler
01 December 2017, 11:04pm

Reina Gossett, courtesy of Visual AIDS 

We’ve come a long way since the onset of the AIDS crisis in the 80s — improved sex ed classes, new therapies, preventive drugs like PrEP have entered the world — but some populations remain critically vulnerable to the virus. The CDC projects that 1 in 2 black men who have sex with men (MSM) will contract HIV in his lifetime. New infection rates among Latino MSM have increased over 14% from 2010 to 2014. And trans folk are 49 more times likely to contract HIV than the general population. So there is still a lot of work to be done.

In honor of World AIDS Day, seven artists including Mykki Blanco, Reina Gossett, and Kei Labeija are seeking to “prioritize black narratives” in the AIDS epidemic by delivering a series of brand new experimental short films. The collection of shorts, part of an ongoing project by Visual Aids, is titled Alternative Endings, Radical Beginnings and will be screened in over 100 venues around the world (including Chicago, New York, and Barcelona) over the next few days. Films from past years will also screen alongside the new additions, including pioneering shorts by Cheryl Dunye, Ellen Spiro, and Thomas Allen Harris shot in the 80s and 90s. They capture what the on-the-ground fight against AIDS looked like in the epidemic’s early years. For example, Spiro’s documentary, DiAna’s Hair Ego (1991), focuses on a Southern black woman teaching safe sex in her hair salon.

Brontez Purrell, courtesy of Visual AIDS

“The thread of my filmmaking is about how everyday people do everyday acts that have a tremendous impact on the world,” trans activist and filmmaker Reina Gossett tells i-D about her film. “I have a deep desire to show how things that we are taking for granted as mundane are deeply beautiful. Everyday beauty is what feels really compelling, especially for those of us whose stories and lives have been pushed to the background.”

If you live in New York, you’re in luck. The shorts will be screened at a host of art institutions across the city tonight (you can find the full list here). At the Whitney Museum, Reina Gossett and other artists will take part in a post-screening discussion about creating their films and AIDS awareness.

Mykki Blanco, courtesy of Visual AIDS

The series is radical, as its title implies. But curators Erin Christovale and Vivian Crockett explain the word’s meaning like this: “The word ‘radical’ for us is tied to the Angela Davis quote “Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” Sometimes we use radical when we talk about things that are systemic, that we need to change… But radical also evokes a sense of resistance and new possibilities that can sprout from the past and the present.”

Find out more about Alternative Endings, Radical Beginnings, and where you can view the films, here.

Mykki Blanco
world aids day
reina gossett