Twenty years after Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his role in “Philadelphia”, Matthew McConaughey has also been awarded the Best Actor accolade for another HIV related movie “Dallas Buyers Club”, and whilst it’s great to see that a movie with a HIV/AIDS plotline is getting a lot of press and potentially creating a lot of awareness about the virus, the film, like so many others about HIV, focuses on the past and a very different situation compared to how many people who live with HIV experience life today.
Many films, dramas and documentaries focus on the early years of the virus, the 80s and first half of the 90s. There are a lot of stories to tell and it’s important we document and revisit history ensuring that these events are made known to future generations. However, we cannot continue to complain that people still fear the virus and hold onto their stigma if they aren’t educated on how far the fight against the virus has come.
That’s the main reason why I am proud of Emmerdale for taking the decision to create Val’s HIV storyline. We now know that Val has tested HIV positive and we’re starting to see her deal with the virus, like many of us have done. It’s equally encouraging that she currently has the support of her partner Eric.
It’s not just beneficial to have modern storylines and characters dealing with HIV. Being able to relate to the storylines can bring comfort and a sense of understanding to men and women living with the virus. Just watching one of tonight’s episodes of Emmerdale has reminded me so much of my own diagnosis, getting drunk to try and forget/ ignore the situation, freaking out about bleeding for the first time and refusing to seek help from a counsellor… …and it also reminds me how much I have grown in confidence and defiance that I won’t let HIV stop me being ‘Alex’ or achieving anything that I want.
Part of me believes (and in a strange way hopes) that one of the main reasons we don’t see as many modern storylines and characters is that they would be quite dull, most people now live a normal life, as normal and boring as their family, friends and neighbours.
However, it would still be great to see more programming featuring HIV in a positive light, showing how times have changed and allowing the public to see that it is no longer a death sentence. It’s only by people being educated about the virus that we can hope to reduce the ignorance and stigma that many HIV positive people still face on a daily basis. The Emmerdale storyline also reminds us that people can be impacted by HIV at any age, it’s not enough to demand an increase in sex and relationship education including HIV information. Working people and the older generations also need to be targeted and soaps, dramas and films are more likely to reach out to more of these demographics than many awareness campaigns or promotions.