If I were an adult who contracted HIV in the early 80s, my first impulse would have been to go into exile and wait to die from AIDS to avoid the intensely negative public perception fueled by misinformation. It nearly takes my breath away to imagine being a child in the 80s who contracted HIV at no fault of your own. At the time, we mainly had Ryan White as the face of children living with HIV, but there were countless others out there whose story never made news. Sometimes, they didn’t make the news because their parents kept the status of their child a secret hoping they could have as normal of a life as possible. Such was the case in the documentary “25 to Life” about William Brawner who contracted HIV at the tender age of 18 months. Brawner was sworn to secrecy by his mother who was simultaneously facing her own guilt and trying to protect him from societal stigma. During the documentary faces the truth and consequences of withholding his HIV positive status from those around him for 25 years. The award winning documentary was selected for Milwaukee Film Festival‘s inaugural Black Lens program. William Brawner along with producers Khaliah Neal and Leah Natasha Thomas were present for the October 7 screening at The Oriental Theatre and remained after for an active Q&A session.
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TRAILER: Documentary “25 to Life”
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Thomas shared, during the Q&A, that they are currently working on a HIV educational curriculum to accompany the film surrounding “disclosure, stigma…relationships, fatherlessness or motherlessness; and we want to be able to have those conversations across the board with other community organizations that are working within this space but then also with other college campuses, specifically HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) because they do have a different campus culture.”
The documentary “25 to Life” also reveals Brawner’s commitment to give back. He founded Haven Youth Center in his hometown of Philadelphia to provide a safe and confidential outlet that he did not have as a child for young girls and boys affected by HIV. When I asked about some of his current projects with Haven Youth Center, Brawner replied, “We have a camp for about 120 HIV infected and affected youth. We are starting to do Hepatitis C testing…One of the leading causes of death of people who are diagnosed with AIDS is Hepatitis C…and we just put together called A1 which is Daddy’s First where we’re trying to work with fathers to become better fathers and men.”
Brawner has also received support Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.® that he joined while attending Howard University. “My fraternity has supported me 150%…They knew about my status even before they knew I wanted to be a Kappa…As far as what we’re doing to proactively talk about testing and disclosure and stigma, my personal chapter, Philadelphia alumni…just last year we got 27 people tested at our house in Philadelphia…we’ve [also] partnered with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated…Nationally…hopefully when people see this film and see those letters, they’ll see that ‘He’s a bruh; we gotta support him.'”
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SLIDESHOW: “25 to Life” at The Oriental Theatre
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“25 to Life” has done well so far on the film festival circuit earning the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 American Black Film Festival. There is no official word on distribution at the time of this article, but more information can be found on 25tolifefilmsite.com, the “25 to Life” Facebook page, Twitter feed @25TOLIFEFilm, and Instagram page: 25tolifefilm.
Today, October 9 marks the close of this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival; however, Milwaukee Film has showings throughout the year. To become a member visit mkefilm.org. To see what you missed and/or to post about your experience at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival use the search/use the hashtag #MFF2104 on social media.
(2014 Milwaukee Film Festival)
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