And The Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic-Randy Shilts
When Randy Shilts died, I was a freshman at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. At the time, AIDS made the news on a regular basis. Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had been diagnosed HIV+, shocked and devastated my friends and I. We didn’t know much about the disease at the time, but in the years to come we would. Two years after Shilts’ death, one of my uncles contracted the disease and died less than a year later. We begin to realize that AIDS was unlike any disease we had ever seen before. Wreaking havoc on the immune system, the disease crippled the infected person until their body just completely shut down. Misunderstanding and misinformation lead to fear, discrimination and vicious rumors about anyone that was diagnosed as either HIV+ or having full-blown AIDS. When HBO premiered ‘And The Band Played On’, my parents had my brother and I sit down and pay close attention. HBO’s screen adaptation of Shilts’ bestselling novel is a critical film in American cinematic history.
Originally thought to be a “gay” disease, Shilts takes us back in time to witness the origins of the epidemic and response by the government to the looming crisis. The social and political climate of the United States, vastly different at the time of the outbreak, plays a significant role in the story and we are able to see how homophobia and politics would nearly derail efforts to learn about and effective deal with the deadly and mysterious disease. As a back story, the battle between French and American doctors for credit of the discovery of the virus is on full display and it is infuriating and disheartening to see how these differences nearly led to even more lives being lost. Today we know far more about HIV and the pandemic that it once was but no longer is. Shilts’ classic is reminder of a dark time where such hope and optimism seemed like dreams never to become a reality. The late author, who also wrote ‘The Mayor Of Castro Street’ didn’t live to see the advances made in the treatment of HIV and AIDS or the progress made in the fight for equality for LGBT people across the world. If he were alive, I truly believe he would be amazed at how far society has come. His books and contributions remain some of the greatest to the advanced of rights for people everywhere and his death a reminder of a time in which a very misunderstood disease threatened to become the next world-wide plague.