Forty years ago a mysterious new illness, first reported by the US public health agency CDC in June 1981, was given the name AIDS.
In the weeks and months that followed more and more fell ill and died, leading to at least 32 million lives being lost in the 40 years up to today.
In 1983, the causative virus was discovered, which has been called HIV since 1986. For four decades, the infection and disease have been part of the reality of life, with the effects having been documented on the screen or in books many times.
Early films are sure to leave an impression, including Rosa von Praunheim’s 1986 film “A Virus Knows No Morals”. Some works also tell the story of prominent HIV victims, such as Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody” with Rami Malek) or the musician Liberace (“Liberace – Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful” with Michael Douglas).
With filmmakers like Pedro Almodovàr (“All About My Mother”) or Xavier Dolan (“It’s Only the End of the World”), HIV sometimes appears very prominently, sometimes only in passing.
Now, with another pandemic raging, these are a few of the most important films and series that have dealt with the HIV and AIDS pandemic over the past four decades.
– “Philadelphia”: Jonathan Demme’s 1993 film was the first major Hollywood picture to acknowledge AIDS and the people affected by it. It won numerous accolades, including a Best Actor Oscar for Tom Hanks and an Oscar for Best Original Song for Bruce Springsteen (“Streets of Philadelphia”).
– “Dallas Buyers Club”: The film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who died in 2021, brought Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto Oscars for their performances in 2014. Set in the early years of the AIDS crisis in Texas in the 80s, homophobic rodeo cowboy and go-getter Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) learns that he is HIV-positive. He starts smuggling drugs that are still being tested.
– “It’s A Sin”: The miniseries from 2021 depicts the tragic fate of a group of young gay men in 1980s London who are caught up one by one in the HIV virus. It was written and freated by screenwriter Russell T Davies (“Queer as Folk”).
– “BPM (Beats per Minute)”: This French feature film by Robin Campillo from 2017 is set in the early 1990s. It tells the struggle of Parisian ACT UP activists against the pharmaceutical lobby and discrimination.
– “Beloved”: In this 2011 melodrama, Christophe Honoré spans the 1960s to the turn of the millennium, telling the story of Véra, who falls in love with Henderson, a gay American with AIDS living in London. The film has an excellent cast including Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Louis Garrel and Miloš Forman.
– “Sorry Angel”: In this 2018 film, Christophe Honoré shows how an HIV-positive man (Pierre Deladonchamps), who knows he is going to die, falls in love with a younger man (Vincent Lacoste).
– “Precious”: The 2009 social drama by Lee Daniels, starring Gabourey Sidibe, tells the story of the self-liberation of an HIV-positive 16-year-old New Yorker who is raped by her father, abused by her mother and bullied at school.
– “Kids”: This 1995 coming-of-age drama by Larry Clark, deemed controversial at the time, portrays a group of bored American teenagers taking drugs and having unprotected sex, and thus how HIV can spread.
– “Same Same But Different”: This 2009 German film by Detlev Buck is based on the true story of Benjamin Prüfer, who fell in love with a young woman during a trip to Cambodia who turns out to be HIV positive.