10 films to watch about the AIDS crisis after 'It's A Sin'

As the groundbreaking series comes to a close, here are other must-watches to learn more about our community's battle against the AIDS epidemic.

Two men embracing at a party

For some, the masterpiece, It’s A Sin, was the first depiction of the AIDS crisis they had seen portrayed in the mainstream, whether in films or on television.

As the show, which broke viewing records, comes to a close, it has inspired viewers to learn more about our community’s continued battle against stigma, which claimed so many lives.

If you’d like to learn more, there are a host of excellent films and documentaries depicting the AIDS crisis. Here’s what you can watch next:

120 BPM (2017)

120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a 2017 film directed by Moroccan-French director Robin Campillo, which follows a group of young activists in 1990’s Paris aiming to find a cure for a lethal unknown disease. Starring Adèle Haenel, known for her role as Héloïse in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the film portrays the activist group ACT UP Paris as they fight against the injustices of the epidemic.

Angels in America (2003)

Angels in America is a 2003 HBO mini-series based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning play of the same name by Tony Kushner. The series was directed by Mike Nichols and follows six New Yorkers whose lives intersect under the Reagan administration, in the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Starring Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson, the series has won five Golden Globe Awards.

Alternative Endings, Radical Beginnings (2017)

Alternative Endings, Radical Beginnings was a 2017 video project commissioned for Day With(out) Art 2017 which “prioritises Black narratives within the ongoing AIDS epidemic.” The project commissioned eight artists—Mykki Blanco, Cheryl Dunye and Ellen Spiro, Tourmaline, Thomas Allen Harris, Kia LaBeija, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, and Brontez Purnell—to produce seven short films, which:

“include intimate meditations of young HIV positive protagonists; a consideration of community-based HIV/AIDS activism in the South; explorations of the legacies and contemporary resonances within AIDS archives; a poetic journey through New York exploring historical traces of queer and trans life, and more.”

The Normal Heart (2014)

The Normal Heart is a 2014 television drama film directed by Ryan Murphy based on Larry Kramer’s 1985 play of the same name. The play on which it’s based is mostly autobiographical, and follows the rise of the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York, as seen by writer Ned Weeks (played by Mark Ruffalo).

United in Anger (2012)

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP is a 2012 documentary by Jim Hubbard. Its creators describe it as: “The birth and life of the AIDS activist movement from the perspective of the people in the trenches fighting the epidemic. Utilising oral histories of members of ACT UP, as well as rare archival footage, the film depicts the efforts of ACT UP as it battles corporate greed, social indifference, and government neglect.”

Tongues Untied (1989) 

The experimental 1989 film Tongues Untied directed by Marlon Riggs, aims to “celebrate Black men loving Black men as a revolutionary act.” Featuring Riggs, Essex Hemphill, and Brian Freeman, the documentary film transposes the typical documentary-style film by: “intercut[ting] footage of Hemphill reciting his poetry, Riggs telling the story of his growing up, scenes of men in social intercourse and dance, and various comic riffs, including a visit to the ‘Institute of Snap!thology,’ where men take lessons in how to snap their fingers: the sling snap, the point snap, the diva snap.”

Parting Glances (1986)

Parting Glances is an independent film from 1986 directed by Bill Sherwood. It follows two gay men, Michael and Robert, living in New York during the Reagan-era as they spend their last day together before Robert leaves the country on a work assignment. Parting Glances would be Bill Sherwood’s only directed film, as he himself died as a result of complications due to AIDS in 1990.

The Witnesses (2007)

The Witnesses is a 2007 French film dealing with the early days of the AIDS crisis in Paris and how it impacts the lives of five people all connected through love and friendship.

Life Support (2007)

Life Support is a television drama film directed by Nelson George, starring Queen Latifah. The film follows the true-life story of a HIV-positive mother who becomes an AIDS activist in the Black community.

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

How to Survive a Plague is a 2012 American documentary directed by David France. The documentary follows the origins of ACT UP and TAG, two activist organisations who “turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.” It’s a must watch in a list of films dealing with the AIDS crisis.


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