Directed by Diveena Cooppan
Mo Berry Productions/Wicked Delicate
Reviewed by T.J. Banks
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen you come to the edge of all the light you have known and are about to step out into the darkness,” someone once said, “faith is knowing one of two things will happen….There will be something to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.”
Diveena Cooppan’s film Positively Beautiful illustrates that point vividly and poignantly. It follows six South Africans—Thembi, Nthuthu, Zanana, Khaya, Nomfundo, and Jan—who have become friends, united by their HIV-positive status. Each has a powerful story to tell. Thembi, a nurse, contracted the disease while giving a baby an injection. Nthuthu’s boyfriend hid his illness from her, purposely sleeping with her because he believed that doing so would “cure” him of the disease. Jan, the oldest South African with HIV, was diagnosed when he was in his early sixties. “I thought, ‘The bloody hell, I’m a grandfather,’” he recalls. “’These things don’t happen to old men, particularly white men.’” He has, however, not only come to terms with having the disease but is deeply thankful because it brought the others into his life.
Interwoven with their stories is an exposition of the HIV crisis in South Africa. There have been an estimated 300,000 AIDS-related deaths in the country, thanks to poor government handling of the situation; the politicization of HIV; the denial that the virus causes death; and the slow roll-out of life-saving drugs. But in 2009, a new government prioritized the HIV issue and began getting the drugs out to the people who needed them. “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known and are about to step out into the darkness,” someone once said, “faith is knowing one of two things will happen….There will be something to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.”
This is an inspiring film about people who refuse to let their disease define them or to stop living because of it. Nthuthu and Thembi accompany Nomfundo, a lesbian, to a gay pride parade. It is, Nthuthu says, “my first pride. I’m not coming out in any way. This is my friend, and I understand her.” Khaya marries a widow whom he meets at an HIV conference: Her children regard him as a second father, and he is especially attached to her son, Linton, who “is also living with HIV.” We see the friends throwing a birthday party for Thembi and toasting each other for having “survived the storms.” They all have been taught how to fly in the dark, and they do it beautifully.
T.J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.