TONIGHT- A new hour of Our America with Lisa Ling covers the HIV crisis that’s emerged within Black America. The statistics are shocking. African Americans make up only 12 percent of the population, but 44 percent of all new HIV infections. And black men are 8 times more likely to be infected than white men, but why?
I directed and produced this show and learned so much about what drives the spread of the virus, and what it means to live with HIV today from the courageous people who bravely shared their story. Their stories speak louder than the statistics and illuminate why we must get past the stigma of the disease in order to fight it.
Just found a CF card with a bunch of photos from my Cambodia trip that I had misplaced. This is one of the very last photos I took on my very last day in Phnom Penh. These bracelets, sitting on top of each other on wooden poles, were placed by the visitors of Choeung Ek, the most notorious of Cambodia’s killing fields. Behind these poles is a mass grave, and the bracelets are meant to signify remembrance - that the souls lost will never be forgotten. I left one too, and will certainly never forget.
Love Wins… Kinda.
The Case Against 8 - Last night HBO premiered a new documentary about the civil rights fight that will define our generation - the right to marry who ever you damn want. The film focuses on the battle against Proposition 8 in California, a fight that took nearly four years to transform from a disappointing ballot measure to a state court case that was appealed and appealed and appealed all the way up to the Supreme. The first 75-mins of the film were fascinating, focusing on the legal case in California, and providing insight from the pro marriage equality side, driven by one odd couple Ted Olson and David Bois (the same lawyers who went head to head against each other in Bush vs. Gore in 2000). I love a good legal doc, and you definitely get a sense of the process and the elbow-grease behind the case. Usually those kind of scenes create tension and drama, but in this film, I’m disappointed to say, it felt more like filler. More time could have been spent more with the heart of the story - the two gay couples (Kris Perry and Sandy Stier; Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami) who served as plaintiffs and bravely risked public scrutiny and ridicule for their civil right to marry. Their stories were the most compelling, but the film, at some points, really grazed over how their lives were affected by the court proceedings themselves. It had to have been more of an emotional roller coaster than it was portrayed to be, and I would have liked to see more of that. Also, where was the community that was behind the movement in all this? They were just as much a part of the story, and they were generally left out. I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to strike a balance, but it felt imbalanced to me.
In other ways this documentary fell short, and here’s why - the ending. It tells half the story - the victorious one. It’s true, the Supreme Court ruled favorably for California, and ended DOMA, but ultimately the ruling was a compromise. Marriage equality was granted to one state - not by due process or equal-protection grounds, but by standing doctrine. Yes, it was a win for gay men and women in California, and everyone who supports marriage equality there, but this case became a central issue for the entire country, and this film failed to seize the opportunity and acknowledge that. There was no recognition of the narrow ruling that left the book unwritten for the 49 other states, and to me, that’s where the case for civil rights for all could have really been punctuated.
Regardless, I’m glad I watched. It must have been an incredible journey for the filmmakers to document this moment in time.
"I am this one little hammer. It’s not much, but if I can do a good job on an issue that’s important to me those photographs can get at things that are so easily ignored.” - Randy Olson.
Inspired today by this short film on the incomparable National Geographic photographer Randy Olson from my friends at Blue Chalk.
Things are Queer (1973) by Duane Michals
This piece by Duane Michals comprises nine photographs, each one a detail of the one that follows. The first shot shows a bog-standard bathroom. Then the camera pulls back to reveal what is either an oversized man, or an undersized bathroom: the man’s foot is the size of the lavatory-bowl. During the ensuing sequence, it emerges that the photograph of the man in the tiny bathroom is itself a picture in a book being read by another man in an alley. Then it turns out that the man reading the book in the alley is also a picture of a picture in a frame which is hanging on a wall. The final twist in this circuitous tale is the revelation that this picture of the man reading the book in the alley is itself a picture hanging on the original bathroom wall. Things are Queer neatly challenges the viewer’s assumptions about the photographic version of reality. The sequence taken as a whole has a cheeky intrigue - at no point can we actually identify the perspective of the camera, the reality of each shot is superseded by the next.