Dear Mr. Perry,
We write as people living with HIV and their allies to express our deep disappointment with your latest film, Temptation. This disappointment is made all the greater because you have done much that can be applauded. Audiences see your plays and films not simply as entertainment, but as opportunities for inspiration, spiritual healing, and unity.
In Temptation, however, you have done a great disservice to people with HIV, and particularly to the African American community, which, as you know, is disproportionately affected by HIV.
As you may be aware, one of the greatest barriers to addressing the HIV epidemic is the high level of stigma and misinformation attached to this simple virus. Stigma prevents people from getting tested for HIV, from protecting themselves during sex, from accessing care when they test positive, and from disclosing their HIV status to family, friends, and sexual partners. Myths and outdated perceptions about how HIV is transmitted and the implications of an HIV diagnosis have resulted in discriminatory treatment towards, and violence against, people living with HIV.
Unfortunately, Temptation can only serve to perpetuate stigma. Your film depicts people with HIV as untouchable and unlovable, doomed to a lifetime of loneliness, and unable to tell their own stories. It implies that men with HIV are sexually irresponsible and predatory. And the final image – that of a woman who has been infected with HIV due to an extramarital affair walking away alone and unhealthy – sends the message that HIV is a punishment for immoral behavior.
Mr. Perry, as a leader in the African American community, is this really the message you want to send in 2013, over three decades into this epidemic? Your impact on beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors in the community is not insignificant. And if you portray people with HIV as sinful, secretive monsters, unworthy of love and incapable of reproduction, what incentive do people have to learn their HIV status or for people with HIV to disclose their status?
HIV is not something that “guilty” people get. It is not a punishment for cheating, lying, using drugs or alcohol, having more than one partner, or not asking the right questions. It is a virus whose transmission is fueled by poverty, ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia, fear, violence, and many other factors – not by people with HIV. In fact, studies show that the overwhelming majority of people with HIV fiercely protect their partners once they know their HIV status. Many of us are in long-term relationships with HIV-negative partners. And yes, we even have children!
We call on you to undo the damage that your film has undoubtedly already caused. We ask you to meet with people living with HIV and hear our stories. We know that you are deeply committed to the communities that have supported your work and we ask that you make a public statement and consult with us to develop storylines that will help end HIV stigma so we can get to the real business of ending this epidemic, together.
Your response is greatly appreciated and we look forward to hearing from you in the very near future. Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
We await your response.
A Cause Worth Fighting For
aChurch4Me Metropolitan Community Church
ACT-UP New York
AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA)
AIDS Action Baltimore
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
The Afiya Center for HIV Prevention and Sexual Reproductive Justice
BABES Network – YWCA
Black AIDS Institute
Bond Community Health Center/MAACA INC
Bronx AIDS Services
Brothers Reaching Others, Inc.
Cascade AIDS Project
Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of New York (CHAIN)
Conscious Contact of New York, Inc.
Detroit Legal Services
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, North America (GNP+ NA)
GRACE of Greater Kansas City
Global Justice Institute, MCC
HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA)
International Foundation for Alternative Research on AIDS
The LaStraw, Inc.
Let’s Talk About It
Living Faith Convenant Church
Louisiana Latino Health Coalition for HIV/AIDS Awareness
McLean county AIDS Task Force
Men & Women In Prison Ministries
Metropolitan Community Churches
Miami Valley Positives for Positives
National HIV/AIDS Disability Project
National Minority AIDS Council
Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services
People of Color Against AIDS Network
Positively Aware/Test Positive Aware Network
Positive Iowans Taking Charge (PITCH)
Positive Voices of Philadelphia, Inc
Positive Women’s Network – USA
Positive Women’s Network – Philadelphia
Positive Women’s Network – Colorado
Positive Women’s Network – Detroit
Positively U, Inc.
Rural Women’s Health Project
Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS Research and Treatment (SMART) University
Spokane AIDS Network
SW Boulevard Family Health Care Services of Greater KC
Twin States Network
UMC West conference AIDS TASK FORCE
Unity Fellowship of Christ NYC
Unity Fellowship Church NYC
U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus
The Well Project
Women’s Health and Justice Initiative
The Women’s HIV Program at the University of California, San Francisco
Women With a Vision, Inc
Yellowstone AIDS Project
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