In the tradition of “And the Band Played On”and “Angels in America,” HBO is gearing up for a new film about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. “The Normal Heart,” based on the autobiographical play by author and activist Larry Kramer, is an all-star event. It features out-actors Emmy Winner Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Jonathan Groff and Denis O’Hare. It also features Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and Taylor Kitsch. This film is important because there is an entire generation of sexually active adults disconnected from the AIDS crisis. Meanwhile, infections are still on the rise. It also reminds both the LGBTQ community and the world at large of a major historical moment.
HIV is a complex problem. It’s most transmittable within the first two weeks of someone contracting it. This is outside the window of many standard tests that test for the antibodies. Additionally, we shouldn’t stigmatize people that have contracted the virus and subject them to living under the cloud of a death sentence. However, these positive representations of “Living with HIV” has helped create an ambivalence about contracting the virus. Youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for an estimated 26 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There has been major movements toward HIV prevention and education, but there hasn’t been much effort to tackle some major contributing factors. Low self-esteem, sex addiction and self-destructive habits can drive people toward having unsafe sex. Positive people declared undetectable can become indifferent about potentially infecting their partners. There has even been the development of a fetish for infecting oneself and others with the virus. This is not meant to ostracize anyone or attack any member of the LGBTQ community, however, we should focus on not hurting each other, spreading love and acceptance and tackling homophobia. This can help keep younger gay men from making risky choices.
“The Normal Heart” provides a context for the AIDS epidemic. It features notable stars playing a group of gay men fighting for HIV awareness. Their story has been relegated to history, but now you can see some of gay history’s first major activists played by award-winning actors. There are young people who may not even know about the vital distinction between HIV and AIDS. Showcasing amazing characters and their struggles with a virus wiping out an entire community is an important story that needs to be told. A huge bulk of LGBTQ history has been in the closet like the community at the time. This will provide a context for stories that shouldn’t forgotten. Gay men and women still can’t get married in every state, and bullying and gay bashing is still an issue. Remembering our past is important in rallying for a better future.
“The Normal Heart”is also pretty important by showcasing out-actors playing gay characters. Bomer, Groff and Parsons have all found success in playing major heterosexual roles. In this film, they can play something a little closer to themselves and show the entire community that you can be gay and an actor. It’s a great positive reminder for the community that it’s OK to be gay. It may sound trite, but this message is rarely expressed. “It Gets Better” and “No H8” have become major political statements and rallying points, but what about messages to the community at large?
HIV is a hot-button issue. “The Normal Heart” not only provides a context for the epidemic, but also opens up a dialogue about the disease. It provides a heartfelt story and some major celebrities to give a face to something that has been relegated to the annals of gay history or a political-correctness minefield. At least this film will open the younger generation to the immense destructive power of the virus. But it will also show that gay stories with gay actors are worth telling.
“The Normal Heart” premiers on HBO Sunday, May 25 at 9 p.m.
Christian Cintron is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.