With World AIDS Day this weekend, a new documentary looks at solutions to a global problem.
A young African woman applies the last touches of makeup, ready to make her way onto the runway. Her dress is flowing; every hair is perfectly in place. She is glowing, radiant with joy and beauty.
But she is not hoping to receive the sash that says “Miss Botswana”; she is hoping to be crowned Miss HIV. She, like all the other girls in the pageant, is HIV positive.
Across thousands of miles and cultural differences, a nonprofit film production company from Oklahoma City has decided to tell the story of Miss HIV. And not just her story, but the story of the 33.2 million people now living with AIDs worldwide.
Dec. 1 is World AIDs Day, which means little to most Americans. But one man, Mart Green, founder of Bearing Fruit Communications, caught a vision for raising awareness of the disease. To create a buzz about AIDs prevention, his company started a website, EGM.tv, and created a documentary film called Miss HIV, which is expected to be released in select theaters in 2008. In 2002 Green’s company also produced Beyond the Gates of Splendor, a documentary about five missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador.
“Every movie I do raises the question, ‘What does it mean to do what the Bible says is true?’” Green says. “If Jesus was here today, He would be in Africa doing something about AIDS.”
In Miss HIV and through EGM.tv, Bearing Fruit tells the story of how HIV rates are going up in Botswana and most of Africa, but the rates are decreasing in Uganda.
“Thirty percent of pregnant women (in Uganda) used to be HIV positive, but now only 6 percent are HIV positive,” Green says. “The rest of Africa is going up; how is Uganda’s rate going down?”
Through a trip to Africa to meet the pageant contestants and leaders in the fight against AIDS, Green and his team discovered that Botswana and Uganda have two different methods of trying to stop AIDS. Botswana’s method is known as the CBA method: They first encourage condom (C) use, then increased faithfulness and partner reduction behaviors (B), and lastly abstinence (A). Uganda’s approach is the opposite: promoting primarily abstinence (A), faithful behaviors (B) and, lastly, condom (C) use.
“We’re saying, ‘Are condoms the first line of defense?’ It should be ABC, not CBA,” Green says. “If you’re faithful in your marriage, you don’t have to worry about it.”
While Green has his beliefs, he says the film attempts to present both sides of the issue.
“We let all voices speak in the film. We went to an international conference to talk to people who feel sex is for everybody, and also talked to people who are for abstinence.”
Mike Snowdon, Director of Communications for Bearing Fruit, says most people don’t realize that AIDS is the leading cause of death in the world for adults 60 and under.
“We think so much of cancer and heart disease in the United States, but the No. 1 killer is AIDS when you look at it from a global standpoint,” Snowdon says. “We’re trying to show these issues really are in our peripheral.”
Most of the 8,000 people who die each day from AIDS live in Africa. But according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AIDS is the leading cause of death in African-American women aged 25 to 34 and the third leading cause of death in African-American men in the same age group.
“If we’re really about prevention, then who is our neighbor? Is it only the one who’s next door? The next state? The next country? Our neighbor is everyone,” Snowdon says.
Green says the goal of the film and website is to teach people how to think, not to tell them what to think. Bearing Fruit hopes people will find a way they can join in the global fight.
Caleb Germany, production assistant for Miss HIV, says he is discovering that younger people have a whole lot to say about AIDS.
“This apathy that people say is inherent with the younger generation really isn’t there. I think younger people are really more motivated than the rest of us to go out and do something about it,” Germany says.
Germany says the main purpose of EGM.tv and Miss HIV is to motivate people to find a way they can join in the global fight.
“The problem is so big, there’s no way you can’t help,” he says. “If you’re a writer, write something. If you’re a photographer, go make a photo book. There are so many things you can do to help, and the last thing we would want to do is limit that.”
To request an AIDS screening in your area or for a list of organizations you can support in the fight against AIDS, visit EGM.tv.