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40 years of AIDS: films and series about the HIV crisis

Created: 07/27/2022, 12:17 am

40 Jahre HIV und Aids - Kinofilme
The actors Vincent Lacoste (l) and Pierre Deladonchamps appear in Cannes with their film “Sorry Angel” (2018). © Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/dpa

HIV and AIDS have been an issue for four decades. Many artists have illuminated the topic – also in moving images. A journey through film and television history from the 80s to the present day.

Paris/Los Angeles – Due to Corona and monkeypox, infectious diseases are currently a major media topic again – in a way that has probably not been the case since AIDS. 40 years ago – on July 27, 1982 – the then mysterious new disease AIDS, about which the US health authority CDC had first reported in June 1981, was given its name at a conference in Washington.

The virus that caused it was discovered in 1983 and has been known as HIV since 1986. The effects of all of this have often been culturally processed during this period.

Early films are particularly impressive, often cleverly denouncing the hysteria in society, the ruptures in the gay community, which was particularly affected, as well as fears and profiteering.

“A virus knows no morals”

These include the American television film “Fearer Frost” (1985), the US feature film “Buddies” (1985), Rosa von Praunheim’s film “Ein Virus knows no Moral” (1986) and the Canadian musical “Zero Patience” (1993 ) about the alleged patient Null, who is said to have brought the disease to the USA as a flight attendant.

The film “Freundschaft fürs Leben” (1989) by Norman René uses the original title “Longtime Companion” to describe the shameful description that was often used in obituaries for the partners of AIDS victims in the 80s. The film “Test” (2013), on the other hand, shows how a gay dancer in San Francisco in the 80s had to wait weeks for an HIV test result – a time of uncertainty.

In addition, some works tell the story of prominent HIV victims, such as Queen singer Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody” with Rami Malek) or musician Liberace (Steven Soderbergh’s “Liberace – Too Much of the Good Is Wonderful” with Michael Douglas). The 2021 Netflix miniseries Halston (starring Ewan McGregor) chronicles the downfall of designer Roy Halston Frowick.

Ten years ago, ZDF broadcast the TV film “Blutgeld” with Max Riemelt, Lavinia Wilson and Fabian Busch, which dealt with the scandal of HIV-contaminated blood products in Germany in the 1980s. In the 90s, a possible HIV infection of the main character was a topic in the Berlin film and episode film “Life is a construction site” by Wolfgang Becker and Tom Tykwer with Jürgen Vogel and Christiane Paul. But there are more feature films and series on the subject.


Jonathan Demme’s 1993 work was the first major Hollywood film about AIDS. Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Best Actor. The film remains cautious, especially when it comes to depicting the gay love affair. Hanks recently told The New York Times Magazine in the summer of 2022 that he was no longer taking the role today: “Could a straight guy do what I did in Philadelphia today? No, and rightly so.” It’s okay as a trend, “that we demand more from a film in the modern world of authenticity”.

Dallas Buyers Club: The 2013 film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who died in 2021, brought Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto Oscars for their performance. The story takes place in the early stages of the AIDS crisis in Texas in the 1980s; homophobic rodeo macho and daredevil Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) discovers he is HIV positive and has very little to live. He starts smuggling drugs that are still in the testing phase.

„It’s A Sin“

It’s A Sin: The 2021 mini-series (5 episodes, 45 minutes each) follows the tragic fate of young gay men in 80’s London as the HI virus catches up with them one by one. The title refers to a song by the Pet Shop Boys (It’s a Sin). The screenplay and idea came from author Russell T Davies (“Queer as Folk”, “A Very English Scandal”).

“120 BPM”: Impressive feature film by Robin Campillo, set in the early 90’s. It’s about the courageous fight of the Parisian act-up activists. A love story is linked to an activism story against the pharmaceutical lobby and discrimination.

“The Lovers – From the Burden of Being Happy”: In the melodrama from 2011, Christophe Honoré spans an arc from the 60s to AIDS to the turn of the millennium. The cast includes Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni, Paul Schneider, Louis Garrel and Miloš Forman.

„Sorry Angel“

Sorry Angel: In this 2018 film, Christophe Honoré follows an HIV-positive man (Pierre Deladonchamps) who knows he is about to die and falls in love with a younger man (Vincent Lacoste).

We Were Witnesses: In this 2007 French film, André Téchiné links different reactions to the viral infection in Marseille in the 1980s, including a 20-year-old from the provinces who is having an affair with a married man and a gay doctor who dedicated to AIDS patients.

Precious: The 2009 Lee Daniels social drama drama starring Gabourey Sidibe (and supporting Mariah Carey) about the self-rescue of an HIV-positive 16-year-old New Yorker who was raped by her father mother is abused and teased at school.

“Kids”: Larry Clark’s scandalous film from 1995, which shows bored minors in America taking drugs and having unprotected sex, and with it the careless spread of HIV.

Same Same But Different: Drama directed by Detlev Buck and starring David Kross and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk. The 2009 film is based on the memories of the German Benjamin Prüfer, who fell in love with an HIV-infected young woman in Cambodia on a trip to Asia.

„The Normal Heart“

The Normal Heart: Ryan Murphy adapted a 2014 play by AIDS activist Larry Kramer, starring Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts. Here in the 1980s, the commitment of a gay author met with skepticism in the gay scene and the fear that hard-won freedoms for homosexuals could be curtailed again.

Théo & Hugo: The 2016 film by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau is daring. Two guys meet in a Paris sex club and later realize that they did it without a condom and that one of them is HIV positive. The two men are accompanied in real time, for example to the hospital, where there is post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). dpa

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