Emily Abt’s unprepossessing DV-shot docu “All of Us,” about the spread of HIV among African-American women (they comprise 68% of new cases), starts prosaically enough with a female doctor conducting research in the field, then latching onto two HIV positive subjects who humanize the crisis. The women’s personalities and strengths command attention, their stories neatly dovetailing with the study’s hypotheses. But when the film suddenly, almost subversively, shifts gears, and the questioner becomes the questioned, the pic’s dynamic changes radically. “All” opened Sept. 19 at Gotham’s Cinema Village prior to a December “Showtime” run.
Ethiopian-born, Harvard-educated Dr. Mehret Mandefro, a resident at Montefiore Hospital in the South Bronx, quickly bonds with her HIV-afflicted patients, even though the backgrounds of case studies Chevelle and Tara –whose histories include rape, drug use, teen pregnancy and prostitution –could not be further from her own.
Both ladies demonstrate amazing fortitude. Chevelle struggles to get her GED and hopes some day to work for an AIDS prevention org to support her child and HIV positive partner, who is showing signs of early dementia. Tara is fighting off two diseases, HIV and cervical cancer.
Through these women, Mehret contacts grassroots organizations dealing with the epidemic and sits in on group sessions, the camera apparently bothering no one.
Her two subjects’ experiences seem to bear out Mehret’s theory that poverty, a history of sexual abuse and, most crucially, a lack of control in the bedroom contribute greatly to the spread of AIDS among black women. Though Chevelle and Tara wield considerable power in their relationships, that power never extends to questions of condom use or AIDS testing.
Friendly queries by the invisible helmer as to the doctor’s own love life first register as merely anecdotal, but when Mehret convenes a “truth circle” among her own affluent, college-bred female friends, it becomes clear that the inability to exert control over sexual matters is not confined to the lower classes. When the doctor herself admits to having practiced unsafe sex with her two-timing boyfriend, the inclusive “All” of the title gains deeper meaning.
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