"Positive Youth" Showcases Impact of HIV on Today’s Youth
When television host and producer Charlie David set out to direct "Positive Youth," he was keenly aware of the high rate of HIV infections among young people 13-29. The new documentary is airing later this month on LOGO and screening at several festivals over the summer.
"I like to be involved in entertainment that creates conversation. The best thing you can do is create an emotional change. I hope for 'Positive Youth' to be a springboard," said David, who said that he felt that we were missing the boat in terms of quality sex education.
"[Schools] have other things to teach, like math and science, they can't be the only ones expected to educate kids about this," he added. "It's the responsibility of society as a whole. Instead of looking to point blame, it's time to have a real conversation."
In the mid-'90s, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, the U.S. saw approximately 130,000 new HIV infections per year. It was the number one cause of death for people 25-44. That number dropped radically around the turn of the century and has held steady at around 50,000 incidences annually for about the last 10 years. More promising still, a positive diagnosis isn't the death sentence it used to be.
Today's treatments make it possible for those with positive status to live long and fulfilling lives. In 2008 there were around 10,000 HIV-related deaths, down from 55,000 in 1995. But a closer look at the recent numbers reveals cause for serious concern.
Between 2006 and 2009, new infections among people 13-29 went up 21 percent. For men who have sex with men (MSM), the rise was steeper, at 39 percent.
"Positive Youth" takes a look at the human side of those numbers by letting us into the lives of four people under the age of 29 living with, or directly affected by HIV. In order to illustrate the wide variety of cultures touched by HIV, David was careful to choose subjects whose lives are vastly different from one another. He hoped that seeing people from all walks of life would make the topic more relatable.
"We're so fearful of what is different. Once you can have an open discussion, once you put a face to it, it becomes less scary," David told EDGE.
Austin Head is a DJ and performer based out of Phoenix who he travels all around the country. He’s openly gay and lives his life to the fullest. In addition to his work as an entertainer, he started Positively Frisky, a social website for HIV positive people and those who aren’t scared off by a positive status.
"I wanted to get involved because I felt there was a void between what people know and what’s available," said Head. "I think if there’s a community for it, people will become more open about it...people will listen."
Jesse is a quiet, reserved gay man living in Toronto who learned of his status before coming out to his family. As a result, he had to come out to them and disclose his status at the same time. He’s hesitant to take medication until he is visibly ill. "By the time [medication] is visibly necessary, it’s already too late," his doctor tells him.
Rakya is an 18-year-old Canadian First Nations woman who was born to a mother with HIV. The virus wasn’t passed on to her, but she’s had to lift a heavy load in her family as her mother’s health has gone up and down throughout the years. As a young child, she acted as the sole caretaker for her infant brother, Owen, while her mother battled anemia.
Chris is a flamboyant and expressive black man living in Florida. He lives with his mother, and he hasn’t told her that he’s gay -- or that he’s positive. He keeps a regular video blog on YouTube where he speaks openly about life with a positive status. Unable to afford medication, he relies on his Christian faith to keep him healthy.
What comes across in all of their stories is a true sense of hope. These kids don’t look sick, don’t act sick and, for the most part, they aren’t sick. They’re living normal lives; that’s the point.
Of his four subjects, David had the hardest time finding Chris. Generally speaking, black culture tends to be less than accepting of homosexuality. Mix that with society’s common misconception of HIV as a gay white man’s disease, and it’s understandable why it’s very hard to find a young black MSM to talk openly about his orientation or status.
The lack of tolerance is so strongly ingrained within the black community that trying to "create an emotional change," as David puts it, seems utterly hopeless.
Accordingly, this is the community most in need of more awareness. From 2006-2009, incidences of young black MSM increased 48%, the highest increase of any population. What’s more, black men and women carry the highest percentage of HIV infection of any ethnic group. David sees a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of his subject, saying, "It’s people like Chris. People exactly like him are going to be the ones to make a difference."
While the rise in incidences among our young men and women is daunting, and even depressing, "Positive Youth" isn’t a death knell; David’s focus is all about illuminating the reasons for hope.
"I believe we are a generation away from getting to transmission level zero. It’s possible. [We need to] further the discussion, and further the education," said David. "I hope they show this film in classes to start discussions for students. Our message is one of prevention for those who aren’t infected and hope for those who are. Positive status isn’t game over anymore, but it’s still not something you want."
"Positive Youth" will air internationally on Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. EST on LOGO TV in the U.S. and OUTtv in Canada. The film also began premiering in theaters across North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia, on March 30, 2012.