Turning a Lens on AIDS to Challenge Stereotypes
It was the sudden death of a beloved cousin that moved Kimberly D. Conner to action.
Five years ago, Conner, a Springfield, Ill., activist and an independent filmmaker, created a film to honor her cousin, Bridgette, who died of AIDS complications in 1997. She was 28. Conner said she wanted to use her cousin’s story and her own lens to erase stigmas about HIV/AIDS.
“I want to show that it’s not something that you can basically determine on the outside by how a person looks or their character,” Conner said.
Conner said she is challenging world leaders at this week’s U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS to focus on awareness and prevention.
“Even after 30 years, there’s still much work to be done, especially when it comes to erasing myths about this HIV/AIDS,” she said. “This is not just a disease in Africa. And there are still so many people unaware of the importance of knowing your status.”
Her film, “This Life Ain’t Pretty,” had its debut on World AIDS Day in 2009. Conner has since taken the 38-minute film across the country, sharing it with thousands of people, including college students, prisoners and elderly people. She said she produced “This Life” to challenge stereotypical beliefs about HIV/AIDS among young, black heterosexuals in America.
“We have to change the way that we think about people that have the disease,” she said, “and that’s one of the things I hope this film accomplishes.”
The film tells the story of a single mother, Brittney, who contracts HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from her estranged husband. In the film, Brittney tells her story from the grave.
“She had never used drugs. She was never promiscuous, none of the things that we tend to think you have to do to get it,” Conner said.
Her goal, she said, is to educate, inspire and share hard facts.
“We are the face of HIV/AIDS, and there are still a lot of people out there that don’t believe that,” Conner said, referring to young African American women ages 18 to 24 who are contracting HIV faster than any other group. African American women account for the majority of new AIDS cases among women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Conner’s cousin, Bridgette, contracted HIV at 24.
Heritage Health and Housing, a nonprofit agency committed to promoting healthy lifestyles through health education initiatives and providing access to health care to traditionally underserved populations in New York City, will feature “This Life Ain’t Pretty” as part of its HIV/AIDS Health Education Film Series this month.