A TV Show Addresses Testing & Treatment
by Justin B Terry-Smith
The first series of Discovery Life’s Reversed was geared toward changing views on diabetes, educating viewers and inspiring them to know how to prevent and fight against the disease. Produced by Emmy-nominated actor, author, producer, chef and philanthropist Charles Mattocks, Reversed now seeks to change views on HIV.
The nephew of Bob Marley, Mattocks has had a successful musical career. He has also starred in several films, as well. His most noteworthy performance came with the title role of The Summer of Ben Tyler, with James Woods and Elizabeth McGovern, and he has appeared on CNN, Dr. Oz, and The Today Show, among others.
A&U had the chance to find out about this new HIV-centric iteration of the show.
Justin B. Terry-Smith: Charles let me first say the show is an awesome idea. I don’t think this has ever been done before. Why have you decided to change gears and focus on HIV? Is this a spin-off or will both shows broadcast at the same time?
Charles Mattocks: One of the reasons came from the first season of Reversed. Jerome was a guest on the show who did amazing with his diabetes. He was able to lose about forty pounds and come off insulin. He also has HIV. He did not mention this to me on the show; we had become very good friends but he only shared [his status] with someone else. I wanted to understand why he didn’t share it with me, not that he had to, but I wanted to know and understand more about what he was dealing with….I felt whatever the reason was, I was very ignorant about HIV and felt it could be a great format to tackle.
I have also been an advocate for not only diabetes but people in general. I love helping. I love giving back. I feel it’s my mission; like Martin Luther King was to civil rights, this is my calling. I didn’t want to limit Reversed to diabetes as the concept is about taking people who are dealing with health issues and bringing in the best experts to help them; I felt that could be any issue, condition or disease.
Can you tell me the format of the show? Is it a form of reality TV, like Real World meets Inyanla: Fix My Life?
There is not much to compare it with, but when you think of some of these shows I guess you can say it has elements of some of them. We are about helping with love. We are not a “jump out of the bushes and surprise you” style show; we are not about hard tough love. We want to meet people where they are. We don’t create any drama or unnatural issues. People have issues and deal with things before they come to the show and at times those issues may come to the surface but unlike many other shows like this we don’t create any or even look for them.
This show is about healing. We are all dealing with something and some more than others. We can all use a getaway where we can have people help us with our walk-in life. Fix My Life seems to cater to people who have serious issues and she in my opinion can be very hard and I’m not sure the [guests] leave or walk away better people. We want people to walk away with something gained. We want them to be advocates for themselves and others.
The format is to take five or so people and I bring them to Jamaica and we help them to look into the mirror and help them make changes that can improve their lives. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I had to do the same. I looked in the mirror both physically and mentally and said, “I have to change today or I will not make it.” So, when I thought of the concept I knew people had to do a deep soul search at times before they can make the changes in their life and health.
I checked out the show’s website and it’s wonderful, I saw that you shoot on location at Montego Bay in Jamaica; not that I’m complaining, but why Jamaica?
My parents are from Jamaica and [as previously mentioned] I am also the nephew of the late reggae legend Bob Marley. His life was also very much about giving back and helping, and that’s what inspired me in many ways. I knew I wanted to change the world or touch the world in my own way and this love of health and helping is my way. I also choose the island because at times people need to get away from their issues; they need a break from their surroundings. At times they need to get away from negative people or persons that can hinder their growth. It’s also a lovely country and has amazing foods and locations where people can feel good about waking up each day.
Why did you decide to change the focus of the show from diabetes to HIV?
The main reason was Jerome; we have become very good friends and I wanted to understand more about that side of him. I was also very ignorant and thought about how many more are like me. Then I thought about how hard it could be, living with HIV and other health issues, and felt this could allow more exposure and push people to get tested and get treatments. I also looked at the HIV community and felt this was needed; the community seems very strong and very loving. I know a few others with HIV and they have impacted me because they are also advocates and we have something in common.
When I think of Jamaica, only thirty-two percent of people with HIV are getting treated; we know this needs to be addressed. The stigma is causing many to not get the help they need and lives can be affected because of fear and stigma. I also felt if I can do something good for the community then why not. Our time we have here is very short and if we can help someone other than ourselves then why not. My uncle once said, “If my life is just for me I don’t want it.” I feel the same, if I am just here for me then why am I truly here.
Before you decided to change the focus of the show from diabetes to HIV, what did you know about HIV?
To be very honest, and I am ok with being honest, one thing I can say is that I will work with some of the best in HIV advocacy to make sure the message and the wording is perfect for the show and what we put out. I want to make sure the community is represented to the fullest.
But back to that question. I didn’t know much. I want to be honest and hope this can be a great reason for why a show like this can be so powerful. I recall thinking I wish Jerome would have said something, not sure if that was a health risk or issues for me or others. I hope my honesty is taken the right way, I was just not aware of what I have come to know now….I had no idea of someone being undetectable; I had no idea there were treatments that could prevent a partner from contracting the virus if one partner has it. I had no idea that people lived as long as they did with HIV.
I also think that’s one good thing in making the show, seeing it through the eyes of an outsider, so to speak. My role on the show will be limited to more of a house mentor. I will bring in amazing people that can also educate myself and the audience as we see the show unfold.
When you do a casting for a show like this what are you looking for in the participants (staff/guest)?
For guests we want to target ones that have great personalities, of course. We want people who are okay being open and sharing. We want demographics that many can relate to. So, we want Latin, we want a black male, we also may want a couple that has HIV. Maybe the husband [transmitted] it to the wife and they are dealing with that. We also may want someone who is new to HIV and maybe just looking at taking meds and going through those choices.
For the experts we want people who help treat those living with HIV from the emotional side to the health side. We will also add some advocates who are living with HIV as their support system. There at times is no one better then someone that can relate to your issues from the health side to emotional then someone with your condition.
Do you have any ideas on what the show might focus on in the future?
I think I will be looking at depression and obesity. I hate to share that because I’m sure someone will try and steal our concept, but, you know what, there is room for us all. [Laughs.] But yes, I also think smoking could all be very powerful shows. I do intend to do a few seasons for HIV. I want this one to do very good and then come back with other stories that need to be addressed. Let’s face, it we won’t be able to cover all we need in one season.
After doing research on HIV have you discovered any important facts you can share with me about the HIV epidemic and Jamaica?
Jamaica has a stigma against people in the gay community [and causes people not to seek treatment or share their status.] We must address this, and I am hoping we can spread this and air in other islands also. We are also working on doing a HIV benefit concert in Jamaica and growing that, so we can reach thousands. I think this could be the start of something very good in the islands in general.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the concert?
The concert will be held in Negril and will have some major names in music and entertainment. We want to bring in some of the HIV nonprofits in Jamaica and some movers and shakers in healthcare to be able to start the process of educating people. We have some major names attached now and think this can help open the door to other islands. A one-day concert that we hope can grow to thousands coming out after the first one.
What do you think people will walk away with after watching Reversed?
I am hoping this can become a platform to educate and inspire. To allow the companies and the non-profits that are doing great work in HIV to have a platform where they can reach the people they need to reach in one space. That when you see the show and see others like yourself you can get tested, open up if that’s something that has been holding you back, maybe to a loved one or family member. Seek the help and treatment that you need, understand how treatment works for you and what may be the best treatment for you. Understand the complications and how to cope with them. Get the support from others that you can reach out to and know you are not alone. Meet friends and see others that are doing amazing and living a great and healthy life and know that this is a condition that you can thrive with. That it’s not the end of your road and you won’t just die with it. There are people living amazing lives with HIV and have lovely families and great relationships and healthy children.
I hope the community embraces the show and we want to work hand in hand with many of those in the community to make this program powerful. This should be a team effort and we welcome anyone that wants to add or share with us or be part of the show to reach out. Once again, I am not an expert but someone that was inspired by what has come to be a good friend and his story and just want to use my platform to get the word out.
To keep up with details on the show, go to the website www.reversedyourhealth.com
Note: Dr. Justin B Terry-Smith will be appearing on the TV Show Reversed as an expert in Public Health.
Justin B. Terry-Smith writes the Just*in Time column for A&U.