Useful Media for National Women and Girls HIV AIDS Awareness Day

This is a guest post by Bianca of Latino Sexuality and of The LatiNegr@s Project. I’ll be cross-posting and blogging for the month of March! Read a bit more about me when we introduced The LatiNegr@s Project team.

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

The National Women and Girls HIV AIDS Awareness Day is March 10th. I’ve written a lot about HIV for this column, however I have yet to really write anything specific for this coming day and with a focus on gender. I’d like to highlight some of the forms of media available that discusses and represents people who identify as women and how HIV and AIDS impacts our lives. Below are two main forms of media: Public Service Announcements that range from 45 seconds to 5 minutes long and music videos.

The PSAs may be useful to begin a conversation about HIV and AIDS education and prevention. They may also be encouraging to folks who decide to become media makers and create their own PSAs. The music videos fall into a few categories: quality videos and music and not so quality videos and music. The quality pieces focus primarily on HIV versus only having HIV as part of a larger storyline in the song. Some of the songs also blame the women in the songs for becoming infected with HIV versus individual responsibility.

Public Service Announcements

The Black Girl Project director and filmmaker Aiesha Turman  created an HIV and AIDS PSA a few years ago. Her PSA “Prevent, Don’t Manage HIV” can be seen below.

Rosa’s Story from the Ventura AIDS Partnership discusses a Latina’s story of HIV infection and how it impacted her family.

Helena Bushong is a 60 year old transgender Black woman living positive and shares her story in the video “Against All Odds: Transgender, African, and HIV Positive” by Josh Lederman. See the video below:

Merle “Conscious” Soden is living positive and identifies as a Black lesbian woman. She has created a one-woman performance of her life story called “I Got Unstuck”  and you may see videos of her story here.

Music Videos

Unfortunately, there are not too many songs that focus exclusively on HIV without there being some kind of problem with the media. For example, TLC “Waterfalls” discusses various challenges and HIV is one of them. Here’s the video and below that are the lyrics connected to one segment on HIV.

Little precious has a natural obsession
For temptation but he just can’t see
She gives him loving that his body can’t handle
But all he can say is baby it’s good to me
One day he goes and takes a glimpse
In the mirror
But he doesn’t recognize his own face
His health is fading and he doesn’t know why
3 letters took him to his final resting place

Now, I like this song for this message. However, it does focus on a heterosexual relationship and it is the woman who encourages her partner not to use a condom when he is prepared to use one. It places blame on the woman as the person who infected him. This may be true in some cases, and the reality remains that for many people whose sex assigned at birth was female their bodies are constructed with more mucus membranes which can tear than those on the bodies of people whose sex assigned at birth was male. This narrative in certain genres is not new.

For example, MC Lyte’s “Lola From The Copa”  focuses on a young woman who she calls a “freak” for having multiple partners and not thinking before drinking and sleeping with her partners. The song ends with Lola being dead. Also, rapper Lil B released a song “I Got AIDS” last year to much critique.

Here he discusses the multiple women partners he was with and how “she gave me AIDS.” Again, we do not hear the perspective of the woman who is living positive. Listen to the song below and this song has profanity so it may not be safe to listen to in certain spaces.

However, not all genres have the same message. I’ve shared some songs that I really enjoy for using in discussions on HIV and other STIs.  For example, The Conscious Daughters, a hip-hop duo from California created “All Caught Up” which discusses HIV and AIDS prevention and education. The song in a user made video is below. The song does have some profanity so it may not be safe to listen to in some places. Thanks to my homeboy Jerome for reminding me of this song.

Choice, another woman rapper, also had a song called “HIV Positive” which was more of a prevention message than a judgement or third person storytelling. Her song can be heard below:

Wu-Tang Clan’s song “AIDS” on the “America is Slowly Dying” album hook is “AIDS kills word up, America is dying slowly.” Although not specific to women or young women, this video of them performing the song live is an important piece of media. I have yet to really see a concert where the songs are all about HIV and the crowd is dancing, feeling the song, paying attention, and getting informed at the same time! Check out the video below:

Reba Mcentire’s: “She Thinks His Name Was John” is a country song that tells the story of a woman who is living positive. The story is that the woman met a man at a party, drank too much, and went home with him and she can’t remember much about him except that he was the person that transmitted HIV to her.

A few of the articles that I’ve written which may be of interest and use in preparing for March 10th include:

Media Maker’s Salon interview with Miss Kings County 2011 Carmen B. Mendoza.
Here I interview Carmen in her role as Miss Kings County (in Brooklyn, NY) and her platform is focused on eliminating the stigma associated with HIV testing. Carmen discusses her choice in choosing this platform issue, challenges and successes with this topic as part of her work in pageantry, and challenging stereotypes about women, pageantry, HIV, and Latinidad.

Myths and Messages about HIV
I wrote last year and discusses the myths and questions I’m often asked when doing HIV and AIDS education and prevention work. I share how some of these questions are connected to myths about HIV and our bodies and how I respond to them.

Conspiracy Theories and HIV 
I focus on what I say and how I discuss HIV when folks present question and believe that HIV is part of a larger conspiracy to get rid of people of Color, queer people, and immigrants.

What are some of the forms of media that you would like to use for National Women and Girls HIV AIDS Awareness Day?

Flashback to Revolutionary TV: A Different World

This is a guest post by Bianca of Latino Sexuality and of The LatiNegr@s Project. I’ll be cross-posting and blogging for the month of March! Read a bit more about me when we introduced The LatiNegr@s Project team.

This article is cross-posted from my Media Justice column.

The first time I started this series I focused on The Golden Girls.  Today I focus on another TV show that continues to impact my life: A Different World.  Many may know this show to be a spin-off of The Cosby Show. This is true, but it was also its own solid show that began with Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) going to college.

Centered at a fictional HBCU (Historically Black College and University) named Hillman, we follow several students (beginning with Denise from The Cosby Show) as they interact with the struggles that come with being college students of Color: time management, interracial dating, HIV, consent, roommate challenges, managing work and school, class differences, dating, friendships, joining sororities and fraternities, being an activist, gender differences, apartheid in South Africa, and shadism.

The first season of A Different World we follow Denise as she rooms with two women, Jalessa (Dawnn Lewis) and Maggie (Marisa Tomei) and makes new friends with women in her dorm such as Whitley (Jasmine Guy) and Freddie (Cree Summer). Of course meeting men was also part of the storyline and they included Dwayne (Kadeem Hardison), Ron (Darryl M. Bell) and Shazza (Gary Dourdan).

This series began when I was just completing my first year in high school. It was one of the first series where I saw people of Color as college students, as intellectuals, creating supportive environments for each other, and investing in a form of delayed gratification (obtaining a degree). At this time it was rare for a young person of Color to see themselves validated on a public TV station and represented beyond the one-dimensional stereotypes of youth of Color (which still continue today.

The opening song for the series is a perfect example of how the show was centered on normalizing the humanity of youth of Color. Performed by Aretha Franklin check out the opening credits and song below:

The lyrics include:
I know my parents love me,
Stand behind me come what may.
I know now that I’m ready,
Because I finally heard them say
It’s a different world form where you come from.

Here’s a chance to make it,
If we focus on our goals.
If you dish it we can take it,
Just remember you’ve been told
It’s a different world form where you come from.
It’s a different world form where you come from.

The lyrics read as a mantra, an affirmation, something one puts on their mirror or writes down to hold and be reminded. To this day I can sing along to the song whenever I hear it. It’s part of my socialization into young adulthood that I’m very privileged and proud to have had. It also makes me sad that the young people I work with today have nothing close to A Different World. There are no shows or narratives that speak to these topics in such an important and entertaining way.

Sure, many may recognize additional members to the cast such as Jada Pinkett (before she became Pinkett Smith) playing Lena, Sinbad as Coach Walter Oaks, or the guest appearances of folks such as rapper Tupac, Tisha Cambpell-Martin, Gladys Knight, Billy Dee Williams, Jesse Jackson, Heavy D, En Vogue, Halle Berry, and Diahann Carroll who performed as Whitley’s mother and Patti LaBelle who performed as Dwayne’s mother. For the past decade, and maybe even the past two decades, there has been no show that has brought so many people of Color, especially Black celebrities and talent on a television show. I can’t think of one right at this moment.

One of Jada Pinkett’s performances was uncovering and sharing with Whitley (a wealthy light-skin legacy), who is the dorm director, that her great great grandfather bought and owned slaves. In “Mammy Dearest”  Whitley’s background becomes important because she plans her dorm’s official dedication ceremony and chooses to include images of “mammies” (black nursemaids, often forced into that position during slavery) to remember women’s roles in history. Kim disagrees as do some other students and the topic of shadism and how the mammy image continues to impact Black women. The outcome is that at the dedication several women, including Kim, create and perform a piece on the evolution of Black women. This message is so important, especially after still witnessing Blackface performed at the Oscars.

Another episode titled “If I Should Die Before I Wake” discussed how HIV and AIDS impacts the Black community, especially the impact on Black women. Tisha Campbell-Martin is Josie, who shares her eulogy, a requirement for the class they are taking, and comes out as a young Black women living positive. Her professor is Whoopi Goldberg. Watch the clip starting at the 3 minute mark. The class does an amazing job of being honest, showing fear and ignorance, and of discussing how HIV is transmitted. “I am a voice in this world” is the motto of this episode and to this day I adore this message.

During the episode titled “Ms. Understanding”  Shazza publishes a book about the relations between men and women that starts controversy all over campus. The women plan a boycott and the men choose to do the same. The interracial relationship that Kim is in at the time also becomes a focus for other students. Gender differences, roles, and expectations along with misogyny is the focus of this episode, and these are always important reminders.

The episode “No Means No” focuses on sexual assault and rape on colleges campuses. Freddie is courted by a Garth (performed by Taimak) who is a popular athlete. This episode the young men athletes question what rape and sexual assault include and how it is defined. They confide in Coach Walter Oaks who holds Garth accountable while Dwayne does the same. The men are educated and taught what their responsibilities are and the men hold one another accountable. Check out the way Dwayne supports Freddie and how her community comes to support her as well. Unfortunately, these are not the ways that many young women of Color on college campuses are supported.

These are just a few of the episodes that stand out to me. They are formative and important pieces of US media. I have a presentation coming up discussing media and sexuality and I’m going to use these representations as examples of media justice. I encourage folks who have not seen the show to take some time out and watch it! There were six seasons in total and they are still quality episodes for each season.

Sadly, as the theme song shares, it is a different world from where you come from. It was a different world when the show was on, and today without the series being accessible, that world has yet to value difference in the ways we know we can. Instead we experience isolation, limitations, and oppression because of our differences. The memories I have of watching A Different World are fantastic! It was something we did with our families, it was what we talked about at school on Friday afternoons. I remember the collective screaming in anticipation and surprise at some of the endings of the episodes (especially during the relationship of Dwayne and Whitley). If there ever was a TV show that needs syndication because those images and narratives still need to be shared, I’d argue that A Different World must be at the top, if not the first item, on that list.