Film & TV

It’s A Sin and lessons of the AIDS crisis

Heather Smith

Russell T Davies’ new drama It’s a Sin hit channel 4 screens during HIV Testing Week 2021. It is apt perhaps that Davies’ critically acclaimed series finds its feet in a similar climate of health anxiety to that of his cast – only they’re inhabiting the evanescent world of the 80’s. The series follows an eclectic group of 20-somethings taking their first tentative steps into independence in the city as they confront the realities of what it means to live openly, whilst juggling an array of cultural dynamics and nuanced family relations.

Far beyond acting as a troubling comparison to the modern climate we find ourselves in, It’s a Sin manages to cut new ground in it’s presentation of the early days of the AIDS crisis. Its presence as an “unknown gay disease” lingers forebodingly in the back of initial episodes. Yet Davies’ writing is unabashed in its careful navigation into the foreground, radically dealing with the topic of shame both internalised and societal and its tragic role in holding back effective treatment and diagnosis.

It is exactly this messy, hedonistic and “beautifully gay” presentation of urban life that is still so radical in 2021. Gay sex scenes, orgies and risqué behaviour isn’t shied away from on camera, leaving little to the imagination. But perhaps this is Davies’ great talent in creating a cast of LGBTQA+ characters that defy tokenism and in doing so they’re real, flawed and they make mistakes.

It’s a Sin is also instrumental in highlighting the  distressing reality of symbolic aids stigma, and perhaps the all the more heart-breaking reality that homophobic oppression wasnt always directed from the faceless mass.The once normalised microaggressions in society that perpetrated such a damaging culture of silence are executed by Davies poignantly. Many of the series most uncomfortable, gut wrenching moments come in this form from the vitriol in the mothers’ voice insisting her son “wasn’t one of those”, wasn’t “dirty” to the latex gloves applied by police in handling protestors. 

The channel 4 drama is a shocking reminder that even now HIV/AIDS remains something of a taboo subject in society. In fact, where is the widespread education on an ongoing pandemic that’s claimed the lives of approximately 32.7 million people so far? Why isn’t this public health emergency part of the curriculum? Sadly, the AIDS crisis across the globe is perpetuated by global inequality and historic policies of repression such as AIDS denialism. A situation it is imperative  we do not allow to repeat itself in light of the coronavirus response. 

In fact, earlier in the response to the coronavirus pandemic UNAIDS warned on vaccination equality, “that governments must not let private companies profit from death and despair in the race to find a coronavirus cure, as they did in the early days of HIV.”  Moralistic advice that perhaps wasn’t heeded holistically, as early as last April we witnessed ministers handing out lucrative contracts to those with ‘political ties’ and given ‘high priority status’. Contracts that led to a wealth of PPE languishing in warehouses, not fit for purpose in the pandemic’s infancy.

Sadly, the lure of profit and economic gain remained all too much for those with moral responsibility. Particularly in the face of marginalised groups like the elderly, like the LGBTQA+ communities of the 1980s, both failed unforgivably by the administration of governments alike. 

Categories: Film & TV

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