On June 5th, 1981, an article appeared in a CDC publication called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report about what would eventually become known as AIDS. Frontline‘s The Age of AIDS chronicles the medical, political, and cultural history of the pandemic for four hours over two nights, Tuesday, May 30th and 31st. The entire program will also be available online along with a comprehensive website.
Even four hours can’t tell the full story of AIDS, but this is an overview everyone should see. It takes a critical look back at the failures of politicians, governments, and institutions as well as medical breakthroughs (which might have come sooner with more funding in the early ’80s).
The Reagan administration’s neglect in dealing with the epidemic at a critical time are outlined in a way that was missing from the obituaries and other coverage of Ronald Reagan when he died. There were people in his administration who tried to do something, but they hit a wall of ideology.
But Reagan isn’t the only leader who is criticized. The response of South Africa under Thabo Mbeki is contrasted with Uganda which early on had a strong prevention program (since watered down because of restrictions on funding imposed by Congress). The documentary has an international perspective from the start but the second half focuses on the global pandemic.
There are stories which are told more fully or in different ways in other documetaries such as Ending AIDS: the Search for a Vaccine which aired on PBS last December and HBO’s Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt and Pandemic: Facing AIDS.
And there will be more stories told as 25 years of AIDS are remembered. On NPR today, there was a discusssion (they have also posted the first story NPR did in 1982 on AIDS) and The World has an archive of stories. In San Francisco, there is a memorial wall where people are posting their memories, the annual candlelight vigil will take place on June 4th.
But the networks including ABC, CBS, and NBC also need to do programs on AIDS. If Peter Jennings were alive he might have done a program. He hosted AIDS Quarterly on PBS, and had written into his contract that he would do several documentaries a year; the kind of documentaries that have almost vanished from the commercial broadcast networks.Powered by Sidelines