I take pride in supporting LGBT films, especially when the cast is predominantly African-American. There isn't much I haven't seen by way of film festivals or endless hunting at Blockbuster, so I was rather shocked that I hadn't seen filmmaker Darius Clarke Monroe's 2006 short film "Testify".
Darius tackles three hot button issues within the black community in ten minutes and fifty four seconds; homophobia, homosexuality in the black church, and HIV/AIDS.
Testify tells the story of a broken relationship between Pastor Cyrus Biggs(Al Thompson) and his son Gene(Art Evans) who is dying from AIDS. Pastor Biggs reluctantly visits Gene during his final days after being absent from his life previously and much is revealed about both the father and son.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film and thought it was well down and packed a punch to be so short in length.
There is one theme in the film that really hit home with me and one that I thought should be discussed. Ironically, after seeing this film I received an e-mail of an article that addressed the same topic.
**Spoiler Alert** You might want to watch the film first before you read any further.
The article I received was titled AIDS:Not A Heterosexual Disease? in which Kevin De Cock, HIV/AIDS director for the World Health Organization (WHO) asserted that AIDS should not be considered a global concern for heterosexuals outside sub-Saharan Africa and that any threat the diseased once posed to the heterosexual population was in the past. The only people who were at risk were men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and prostitutes.
I believe this is an incredibly dangerous message to be sending nearly thirty years into the epidemic. This type of thinking was commonplace in the early 80's when medical professionals didn't know any better and the religious right quickly used AIDS as a weapon to further marginalize the gay community. But it's 2008 and we should all know that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate based on sexual orientation, race, or class and can affect and infect us all.
Apparently everyone didn't get the memo. Pastor Biggs' reaction of disbelief to Gene's confession that he'd contracted the virus through heterosexual sex is a shame but not uncommon.
I couldn't help but wonder if he'd treated his son differently if he'd known all along that he'd contracted the virus from a woman and not a man? Would he have been there for him all along? Would Gene's positive status be viewed as a fatal mistake by a young man who had unprotected sex with the wrong woman versus a punishment for his homosexuality?
"Testify" shows the ugly reality of homophobia in the black church and the role it played in fueling the epidemic instead of curbing it.