Half a dozen prominent HIV/AIDS activists asserted Wednesday night at SAG-AFTRA’s Los Angeles headquarters that American society has to break down more barriers to deal effectively with the disease after more than three decades.
“We have to have a culture of healing which we do not have now,” said Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer of the story that serves as the basis for awards contender “Moonlight,” titled “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.”
McCraney’s mother died of AIDS, a decade after being diagnosed when he was 13. “I remember the first time I cried was when I saw ‘Forrest Gump’ and saw Jenny die and related that to my mother dying,” he added.
“We have to get in the room with those who are most vulnerable,” McCraney added. “We’re not teaching young people ways to be intimate and safe.”
McCraney’s message was repeated in a variety of ways during the two-hour “Our Role in the Fight” discussion, held on the eve of World AIDS Day by the performers union with The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation — which presented clips of Taylor’s pioneering efforts to raise awareness. Taylor’s granddaughter Naomi Wilding noted that her grandmother’s goal was to eliminate the disease.
Joel Goodman, managing director of the foundation, moderated the discussion. SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said, “I look forward to the day when we can celebrate there being no more World AIDS Days.”
Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who became the first physician to identify AIDS in 1981, announced that “tremendous” scientific progress has been made in identifying, treating and preventing the disease, but then noted that there has been no reduction in new infections in the United States in 20 years and that 40% of the new infections are in the black community.
Chandi Moore, a transgender activist who appeared in the “I Am Cait” series with Caitlyn Jenner, noted that a scene in which AIDS was discussed was cut from the show, adding, “People are still not willing to talk about it. We have to break those barriers down and start having those conversations.”
“ER” producer Neal Baer shared that stories can lead to social change and pointed to Gloria Reuben’s HIV-positive character, Jeanie Boulet, on the show as being one of the first times that such a character did not suffer “a horrible death.”
“It’s always through conversation, that conflict, that we move forward,” Baer added.
Jaime Pressly recalled her favorite uncle dying of AIDS in North Carolina when she was seven and added that she’s campaigning for people to deal with the disease directly. “We need to promote friends going together to clinics to get tested,” she added.
David Arquette attended the start of the panel, saying he wanted to pay tribute to his late sibling Alexis Arquette, who passed away in September.