We’re Still Here
Directed by Grissal Granados & John Thompson
Reviewed by T.J. Banks
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]erhaps, someone once said, we need to follow our pain and heartbreak, not our bliss. And that is precisely what the people we meet in the film We’re Still Here do. Each of them belongs to the first generation of kids born with HIV in the 198os and 1990s; and each has survived despite the odds.
The filmmaker, Grissel Granados, knows her territory only too well: She herself has perinatally acquired HIV and has been telling her own story since she was twelve. She is adept at getting her subjects to tell their stories: In true Charles Kuralt style, she listens more than she talks, nudging the interview gently along only when she has to.
And their stories are powerful ones. Mary Bowman, the black poet, learned that she was HIV-positive during a routine doctor’s visit in fourth grade. The next day, they were discussing Ryan White, and Bowman suddenly piped up with “I’m HIV-positive, and I take medication every day.” The other kids began teasing her, and “that really started the internal stigma I had, not even dealing with the outside stigma. So that was a challenge in and of itself.”
Nestor, a musician, learned when he was thirteen. Alison Hathaway doesn’t remember how old she was, only that the other kids wouldn’t play with her and her brother, who was also infected. “Growing up, we never talked about it,” she muses. “That’s what we called it—‘it.’”
But artist Kia Labeija [A&U, May 2015] had learned to speak out from her mother, AIDS activist Kwan Bennett: She stood up in a school assembly back in seventh grade and told everyone that she had HIV.
They have suffered in ways that some of us can’t imagine children suffering. But they’ve also grown into wounded healers, souls full of compassion. Bowman works at The Women’s Collective, a group run by and for women living with HIV. Labeija has taken her pain and sorrow over her mother’s death and turned it into “24,” a series of photographic self-portraits that was selected to be part of the Art AIDS America exhibit. She views it as her way of beginning to heal herself and others. That story, like all the others, is another facet of the prism, bringing its own poignant yet ultimately hopeful light to bear on the subject.
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.