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TV shows haven’t always historically featured sensitive representations of the AIDS crisis, with some playing into stereotypes and tired tropes. The tides are turning though – particularly with blockbuster series such as It’s A Sin and these other shows.
Russell T Davies’ hit miniseries It’s A Sin was one of the biggest TV shows of 2021, exploring the AIDS crisis in London in the 1980s and early Nineties.
While the show wasn’t perfect – it caught mild criticism for shielding its characters of colour from the crisis and ignoring the women affected – it was widely praised for its raw portrayal of the AIDS epidemic. It captures the emotional impact of how terrifying it was for gay people – a trauma amplified by a lack of education and bigotry.
Originally a Pulitzer prize-winning play by Tony Kushner (you can watch the National Theatre’s production starring Andrew Garfield here), Angels In America was made into a 2003 TV show with Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.
It’s an epic tale and a harrowing look at the epidemic in 1980s New York, particularly telling the story of Prior Walter, a gay man with AIDS.
GLAAD’s analysis of LGBTQ+ representation on TV for 2020-2021 found a startling drop in characters with HIV and AIDS. In the shows surveyed, the number had decreased from nine to three – and all three characters are on Pose.
Pose is about the ballroom scene of the 1980s and Nineties, mainly focused around LGBTQ+ black people living against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York. As time passes, it shows just how much this community is decimated by the virus.
Oliver, played by Conrad Ricamora, discovers he’s HIV positive in the first series of How To Get Away With Murder.
While everyone living with HIV has a different experience, Oliver covers some common themes, including the difficulties dating when you’re positive, and telling family members the news. Ultimately, he’s a fully realised character who isn’t defined by his status.
Ricamora told Variety: “There is this tendency to approach storylines with characters living with HIV and AIDS with such a heaviness and I think that just in showing Oliver living his day-to-day life, even in episodes where we haven’t mentioned it, it is allowing people to see characters and a person living with HIV that is thriving and it’s not about them having a crisis.”
The AIDS crisis isn’t the main focus of Girlfriends, an early Noughties sitcom about the lives and loves of four black women in LA. However, it becomes an important part of an episode in season three, when the women learn an old friend has contracted HIV.
The character Lynn makes a documentary called ‘Lives In The Balance: African-American Women And The AIDS Epidemic’, with real black women sharing their stories. It’s an incredibly moving and important reminder of the far-reaching effects of AIDS.
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