Recommended Films and Videos Related to HIV/AIDS in Africa
A lot of media feature the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, and it can be daunting to determine which of these would accurately and appropriately convey the lived experience of ordinary Africans navigating the AIDS epidemic, as well as governmental and non-governmental responses to HIV. In this brief note, I share a few of the films that I have used in my classes on African Politics and Comparative Responses to AIDS in Africa, with some explanation as to why I screen them.
The films listed below are all documentaries, though there is also a feature-length film in isiZulu (with English subtitles) that could also be used. With the exception of the first and last film listed, the films stream online for free. I have seen more films on HIV than the average moviegoer, but I have not seen them all. If you have a recommendation you don’t see on my short list, please post links in the comments or email me.
State of Denial (2003, South Africa, 83 min.) is a documentary that follows HIV-positive South Africans trying to access AIDS treatment in the period before the South African government approved the use of anti-AIDS drugs. In addition to capturing the rich stories of people living with HIV, the film documents the government’s denial that HIV caused AIDS and the social movement that demanded that treatment be made available to pregnant mothers specifically and to the public more generally.
The Troubles in Zolokere (2006, Malawi, 23 min.) documents the work of an American Peace Corps volunteer in the northern Malawian village where he has been posted. The filmmaker (a former Peace Corps volunteer himself) talks to people who are affected by HIV while capturing everyday life in the village. During the course of the film, you witness the filmmaker learn firsthand about the impact of HIV and the role of gender inequality in HIV’s spread. The film is an innocent treatment of a curious American trying to understand a complicated health and social problem in a context very different from his own; his perspective is very similar to that of an average American college student.
Hans Rosling: HIV – new facts and stunning data visuals (2009, Global/Africa, 10 min.) is a TED talk in which Swedish academic Hans Rosling uses UNAIDS data on HIV prevalence around the world to provide some nuance in understanding the relative problem across countries and within countries. The brief video provides a great introduction to UNAIDS statistics and HIV trends over time. This talk (like others by Rosling) can be particularly useful when trying to convey to students how to analyze and present data in a comparative way and by complementing data analyses with relevant substantive context.
The Lazarus Effect (2010, Zambia, 32 min.) is an HBO documentary that follows people sick with AIDS before and after they receive anti-AIDS drugs. The transformations are incredible and demonstrate the value of providing greater access to treatment in resource-poor countries. The Lazarus Effect was co-produced by Product(RED) and could spark an interesting conversation about global awareness campaigns for AIDS, how these campaigns are funded and implemented, and the goals and motivations of international agencies in contributing to the production of such films.
The Carrier (2010, Zambia, 88 min.) follows the story of a polygamous family in a rural area of Zambia as they deal with HIV’s spread within the family and with family members falling ill. A particular virtue of The Carrier compared to the other films on this list is its focus on local responses to AIDS. The film captures clinic visits, the challenges of rural farming, and discussions about responding to AIDS among the local area’s traditional leaders. Because of its only recent release online, I have not yet screened this film in a class; however, I think this film conveys better than most the everyday lives of people living with HIV and the people with whom they often come into contact when seeking care or assistance.
 The film is “Yesterday” (2004), a 96-minute drama filmed in South Africa and selected to the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. My only hesitation in recommending the film is its rather stereotypical (and sometimes inaccurate and unrepresentative) portrayals of the lives of black women in rural South Africa. If screened for a course, instructors might consider a discussion before/after about the somewhat simplistic narrative and its reality in contemporary South Africa.