Among the questionable policies of the Bush administration is a continued insistence on the ABC method of preventing the spread of HIV. “Abstain, be faithful” and, as a last option, “correct and consistent condom use” might seem like varying degrees of sound advice, but for how many people in the nation’s most impoverished neighborhoods do these represent legitimate options? Certainly, as Emily Abt’s documentary makes clear, the application of such strategies to black women in the South Bronx—many of whom lack any sort of sexual agency in their relationships—is thoroughly laughable. Focusing on a young doctor researching the lifestyles of HIV-positive women in that neighborhood and two of her subjects, women whose woeful histories of abuse—often starting with parental sexual misconduct—have led indirectly to their current state, All of Us stands as a stirring rebuke to the willful ignorance propagated by the government and beyond that…well, little else. Dressing up its lack of cinematic imagination with an over-reliance on wide-angle lenses and a series of rack-focused scene-setters as well as an attempt to draw parallels between the doctor’s middle-class life and that of her poverty-row patients, the film can’t help feeling hopelessly slight despite its obvious good intentions. Still, by grounding her exploration of the spread of HIV in an investigation into the unequal power dynamics of sexual relationships, Abt makes clear the way in which female disempowerment—particularly with regard to condom use—leads to the development of a culture that facilitates the spread of disease. And from the sobering tale of a woman whose painful reconstructive vaginal surgery following a bout of cervical cancer isn’t enough to ward off her boyfriend’s unwanted advances to the hint of uplift provided by another HIV patient who finds work as an AIDS educator, the film doesn’t lack for human interest. But whatever useful social purpose the picture may serve—and it should be required viewing for those who still think abstinence is a viable option for a drug-addicted underclass—is outweighed by the sense that what we have here is just one more vaguely compelling, aesthetically drab documentary of-educational-interest-only in a marketplace already glutted with such increasingly tiresome offerings.
- Pureland Pictures
- 82 min
- Emily Abt
- Chevelle Wilson, Tara Stanley, Mehret Mandefro
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