Final Project Proposal- AIDS in the Queer Community


For my project, I will be exploring the ideologies around films depicting males infected by HIV/AIDS. In Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffins’ Chapter “A Matter of Life and Death: AIDS, Activism, Film and Video,” they point out how the depiction of men contacted with AIDS usually portrayed them as victims. This immediately made me think of Philadelphia, which I had just seen a few weeks ago. Tom Hanks is portrayed as a victim who has to resort to legal action in order to find some sort of equality for himself. I want to explore the ideologies portrayed in relation to Philadelphia (1993). I will also be including movie reviews and opinion pieces printed in The New York Times at the time of the movie’s release to further explore how the queer community reacted to this illustration. I will particularly focus on Jim Schmalz’s “From Visions of Paradise to Hell” because he provides a first hand account of the tension, as a men infected by AIDS himself.

I will also be focusing in on Longtime Companion (1989), which is the first wide-released film to have used AIDS as a centerpiece in its plot. I want to focus in on this because I think it takes a different approach to what I expected the first film on AIDS to take. Firstly, It portrays people with affluent backgrounds as the protagonists of the movie which I found interesting because I thought the first wide-released film would portray people from a low socioeconomic status in order to reflect the negative stigma behind AIDS. The film also shows the fear within the queer community of contracting AIDS, which I also found to be something note-worthy.

After this, I would like to focus in on the ideologies behind Chocolate Babies(1997). Chocolate Babies portrays queer men with AIDS as empowered social revolutionists in the fight against the bureaucracy of AIDS. This film is such a contrast from Longtime Companion and Philadelphia that it would help provide a timeline to show how queer ideologies on film progressed between 1989 and 1997. Although this not a long period of time, the three films I chose show a changing dialogue among the queer community and among the public about AIDS.

Chocolate Babies’ portrayal of characters also influenced me to look at the role that the audiences play in these AIDS-related films. Are these films trying to make audiences pity people who are infected by AIDS or empower them to lead revolutions against it and how does the time period in which these films were made influence these messages? Furthermore, I will also ask the question of why certain audiences are targeted: should the film target queer audiences in order to become more informed about AIDS or should heterosexual audiences be targeted in order to generate compassion for the AIDS infected population?

Lastly, I would like to focus on the ways in which popular culture has become involved in spreading the message of AIDS. I’m particularly thinking about Salt-n-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk about AIDS” and other initiatives that may have taken place at the same time. I think it’s particularly important to think about cast choices of these movies as well. Is it significant to have people like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, who had just gained some fame for his role in Malcolm X, to star in a movie about AIDS? What is the significance of casting a group of African American queer men as revolutionaries instead of a group of Caucasian queer men? In conjunction with this idea, it would also be good to explore how certain communities were being targeted to learn about AIDS through popular culture. I would like to argue that having Magic Johnson disclose his AIDS status caused a pivotal moment in the history of AIDS. I will use part of his documentary, The Announcement, to show how he went about bringing awareness of AIDS to the African American community and to the youth that looked up to him.

For my video, I would like to have an interactive timeline showing the places and the movies that really ensured the inception of AIDS as a topic of discussion in popular culture. I’m still not exactly sure how I would want to do this, but I think by researching more I’ll be able to come up with a better plan or flow for how it could go. Another direction I was thinking of going is seeing how queer men with AIDS are depicted in contemporary films and compare and contrast the different aspects that relate or contradict the way that these characters were compared in the past.




  1. How do films depict the ideology behind people who have contracted AIDS? How does socioeconomic status affect the image of queer men who have AIDS?
  2. How do different AIDS-related movies target their audiences? Why exactly are these the audiences they are trying to reach?
  3. What are the specific ways in which the different communities were targeted in order to raise awareness about AIDS?
      1. African Americans (especially the youth)- Magic Johnson, Salt & Pepa, Using Denzel Washington & Tom Hanks for the general public


Longtime Companion (1989)

Philadelphia (1993)

Chocolate Babies (1997)

The Announcement (2012)


Benshoff, Harry and Sean Griffin. “A Matter of Life and Death.” Queer Images: A

History of Gay and Lesbian Film in America. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. 201-218.

Corliss, Richard, and Elizabeth L. Bland. “The Gay Gauntlet.” Time 143.6 (1994): 62. Print.

Grimes, William. “AIDS is the Subject, but Who is the Audience?.” The New York Times1993. Print.

Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. “Representing Men with HIV/AIDS in American Movies.”Journal of Men’s Studies 11.1 (2002): 77. Print.

Schmalz, Jeffrey. “From Visions of Paradise to Hell on Earth.” The NewYork Times 1993. Print.

Sendziuk, Paul. “Philadelphia Or Death.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 16.3 (2010): 444-7. Print 


2 thoughts on “Final Project Proposal- AIDS in the Queer Community

  1. channabach

    Sounds intriguing. You are asking great questios about the politics of representation, and whose stories get told in a particular cultural medium and why.

    Make sure you are specific about the historical period you’re referencing. Three of the films, many of the popular press articles, and the music you cite here are from 1989-1997, a significant decade in AIDS cultural representation. This is great. The 2012 documentary is from a rather different historical moment, and one in which AIDS is represented in different ways than the earlier period. You’ll need to account for this in your analysis. The 2012 film is about a figure who was prominent in the 1990s, Magic Johnson, so this might be how you are connecting it. Just make sure to be specific about the historical issues and changes in AIDS representations, film medicine, and global health that mark the difference between AIDS representations in the 1990s and AIDS representations in 2012.

    In response to the query you pose at the end of your proposal, I don’t think you need to bring in more recent films. You have more than enough material with the 1990s films to develop a strong and compelling project, and I worry that adding more films will water down the project and stretch you too thin.

    Your timeline idea would work well for the Google map component actually–you could map the various sites depicted in your films, or significant AIDS activism locations.

    Some resources you may find useful: Priscilla Wald’s Contagious*, Catherine Waldby’s AIDS and the Body Politic*, Cathy Cohen’s The Boundaries of Blackness, Cathy Cohen’s “Punks, Bulldaggers, & Welfare Queens”**, Douglas Crimp’s Melancholia & Moralism**, Karma Chavez’s “ACT UP, Haitian Migrants, & Memories of AIDS”**, Kirsten Ostherr’s Cinematic Prophylaxis (about film & representations of disease, including a chapter on AIDS)*, Peggy Phelan’s Mourning Sex*, Kathryn Bond Stockton’s Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame*, Beverly Seckinger & Janet Jacobson’s “Love, Death, & Videotape: SIlverlake Life”**, Martha Gever, Pratibha Parmar, & John Greyson’s Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian & Gay Video*, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and its Metaphors*, Paula Treichler’s How to Have Theory in an Epidemic*, Simon Watney’s Practices of Freedom: Selected Writings on HIV/AIDS*, Jeff Nunokawa’s “All the Sad Young Men: AIDS & the Work of Mourning”**, Cindy Patton’s Inventing AIDS, and Kylo Patrick Hart’s The AIDS Movie*.

    The * texts = books I own that you may borrow if you want
    The ** texts = uploaded to the Readings page (scroll down to the bottom)

    I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes you.

  2. D. Hewitt


    I really like where you are headed with this! The topic of AIDS, especially within the queer community, is interesting. Part of my proposal is looking at Angels in America, which follows a gay couple during the 80’s AIDS crisis during the Reagan presidency, but I can’t recall any recent films off the top of head that address the same issues. I also haven’t seen any of the films you plan on analyzing, so I am looking forward to hearing what you learn.

    As a communication major, I’m excited to see what you find about AIDS in the mainstream media. The questions you plan on asking are very intriguing; I wonder if there will be a stark difference between how more mainstream/well-known movies, such as Philadelphia, target their audience and address the issue in comparison to movies like Chocolate Babies.

    Finally, I love the idea about an interactive timeline for your video. Hopefully we will see an evolution of AIDS coverage over the years. All in all, your project proposal sounds very promising!

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