Thursday, April 30, 2015

"25 to Life": a boy infected with HIV by a blood transfusion grows to manhood without symptoms and secretly



The documentary “25 to Life” (2014), directed by Michael Brown, tells the sobering story of William Brawner, now in his mid 30s, who kept his HIV-positive status secret for much of his life.
  
But Brawner’s story is one of having to deal with one’s hand in life – call it karma if you want.  He was scalded by an abusive man (father??) as a boy, and given skin grafts and blood transfusions.  This all happened in the early 1980s, well before there was a blood test for HIV (or even before the “HTLV-III” virus has been identified).  So his story is a little bit parallel to that of Ryan White.
  
His mother (and close family) decided to keep it a secret, and so does he, for a very long time.  Will started taking AZT, which had side effects.  But he grew up into manhood without progressing into symptoms  About 10 percent of people infected with HIV probably do not develop major symptoms (although their blood work is abnormal) for decades, maybe never, if left alone. They may have a gene that resists HIV transmission among T-helper cells.

The film does make a strong point, quickly, that people feared HIV-infected others regardless of how they were infected;  there is an illogical presumption of "guilt" in people's minds.  This was common in the 1980s with people who got HIV at birth for from blood transfusions. 
    
Brawner grows up, and develops the usual heterosexual interest in women, and wants to have a wife and family.  (He seems to have recovered from the burns, which is no longer an appearance issue itself, and that is rather amazing.) He does, at some point, tell his girl friend (Bridgette), whom he marries (if I follow right – this point is glossed over in the media), and they ponder whether they need to use condoms and can have children.  Finally she does get pregnant, toward the end of the film.  As far as I could tell, she didn’t get infected.  Many  heterosexual partners do not get infected, and the virus is even harder to transmit from women to men than from men to women (an argument that the right wing tried to use against gay men in the 1980s).  He learns to give her shots – is this for diabetes (which sometimes first shows up in pregnancy)?
  
For years, though, he does not tell close friends, and attends Howard University and is popular, with no one knowing. But it is common in life not to know a lot of things about friends, right?  Some news clips (even more than the film) however, do talk about his behavior,  which sounds questionable.
  
  
The official Facebook is here  The distributor is the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, along with Black Lives Matter and
  
There are numerous articles about the film, such as on indiewire here , PGN here  and “The Root” here. and NPR here.

He is now Executive Director of the Haven Youth Center, link 
   
Picture: from Baltimore Sandtown neightborhood, my visit yesterday, are Freddie Gray incident.  That will certainly generate a film.


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