This is the story my generation has been waiting to see.
I started getting involved in AIDS activism and work in 2002 at the age of 17 – ten years ago, but still long after ACT UP was the force of intensity I later came to obsessively study. When I first became aware of the group, I felt a sense of loss about not having been there, even as I was grateful to not live in an era when the AIDS crisis was decimating my community with that same degree of brutality.
ACT UP: the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power described itself as a “diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis.” United in Anger illuminates how ACT UP exemplified an era in which queer politics were community driven, inclusive, sexy, unrepentant, and brilliantly dangerous. The energy of the film replicates that of the movement.
United in Anger, produced by Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman, is composed of footage from a wide range of video artists, activists, and collectives, including DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activists) and Testing the Limits, combined with contemporary interviews from the ACT UP Oral History Project.
Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman have been collaborators for 25 years. In the mid-eighties, when Ed Koch was mayor of NYC and queers were fighting to pass a bill that would keep them from being denied housing and thrown out of restaurants, Jim was filming the queer movement and Sarah was covering it as a reporter of the gay newspaper the New York Native. The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT-UP) was formed in February 1987 and both Jim and Sarah joined. Jim and Sarah also founded the MIX Festival (The New York Queer Experimental Film Festival) that same year and the ACT-UP Oral History Project in 2001 where they have collected over 100 video interviews of ACT-UP members.
In Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, David Wojnarowicz wrote: “A camera in some hands can preserve an alternate history.” We are very fortunate indeed that Jim and Sarah have worked so hard to preserve this history that differs sharply from the one told by mainstream media. The resultant feature-length documentary, United in Anger: A History of ACT-UP, is an inspirational film told from the point of view of the activists themselves and features rare archival footage of ACT-UP actions and meetings as well as interviews from the oral history project. Tickets for the February 16th world premiere go on sale today at the MoMA box office for the general public. (MoMA members may purchase their tickets online now.)
PQ: I first met you back in 2008 when you were screening Black Womyn Conversations at Zami at the New School and if I remember correctly that film was a real labor of love that took like 7 years or something –
TM: Yeah, 6 years. Yeah, yeah.
PQ: Can you talk about how that project came about and what that process was like?
TM: It was the project that I wanted to make once I realized or had access to the tools to actually make it. Because I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker but I didn’t know exactly how to make films. I came from South Carolina, didn’t have access to any kind of video camera or anything like that. The first time I really even put hands on a video camera was when I was in college. So the idea really was kind of like a organic thing – oh this is what I’m gonna do once I get the tools – but I was thinking about my own experience because I wasn’t too far from it.
Today, on the 30th anniversary of the now famous/infamous New York Times article, “Rare Cancer Seen In 41 Homosexuals”, announcing the beginning of what would become the AIDS crisis, I offer you a list of my most favorite and my least favorite translations of this disease into narrative form.
AIDS is like the best plot device ever for the lazy screen writer. The conflict for the protagonist is at once external (discrimination) and internal (disease) which makes it easy for a lazy writer to lean on. For the audience, it is exciting, and implies at least one salacious sex scene. Straight audiences can watch with a sense of lurid pity and feel like they are really educating themselves, while gay people are mandated by Paragraph 498, section B of the homo code to watch all AIDS films. In tribute to the style of Diseased Pariah News, I made myself watch, and review, 10 AIDS movies in 10 days. Here are the results – 5 good, 5 bad, bad ones first cuz I love to hate. Please note: I would have watched RENT just to trash it – after reading Stagestruck by Sarah Schulman – but honestly, I watched a trailer and it was like AIDS Glee and I couldn’t deal.