Saturday, March 10, 2007

Queen Latifah: Life Support

It's Saturday night. 9:30 pm. Still early enough to head out to the club, have a late dinner, see a movie, or go out on a date. Yet, here I sit typing with tears drying on my cheeks. No, I'm not depressed, lonely, nor in pain. Actually, I'm inspired—inspired to obviously write, but also to tell everybody I know, especially Black females, about the HBO Film, Life Support, starring Queen Latifah, Wendell Pierce, and Anna Deveare Smith. But merely telling people about this relevant film is not enough. Life Support is about doing more than talking; it's about taking action. To address the alarming fact that more African-American women are infected with HIV than any other race of women, should motivate us to take to the streets, leaving judgments behind. We should be moved to empower sistas from all walks of life to demand more respect for themselves and their bodies. Yet, who's willing to get out of their comfort zone to do that? Not many. This film introduces us to a valiant few.

Meet Brooklyn native and former drug addict, Ana Willis. She has a loving husband, two daughters, an important job, and the virus that causes AIDS. Life Support sheds insight into the challenges she and millions of other women like her face every day. Utilizing a documentary style, it opens with an unscripted dialogue between real women—not actors—living with HIV. Amongst them sits Latifah, as Ana, expressing anger at her husband for his indirect involvement in her getting infected. He too is a recovering drug addict. This meeting occurs as part of Life Support, a fictitious AIDS outreach group in Brooklyn. Ana works diligently for the organization, traveling throughout the city advising women how to use protection and to get tested.

Yet, no matter how Ana tries to positively impact the future of her community, the devastating consequences of her past angrily stare her in the face through the eyes of her teenage daughter, Kelly, portrayed by Rachel Nicks. Due to her addiction, Ana gave custody of her to her mother, Lucille (Anna Deveare Smith). Though family ties are strong, the scars left by her Ana's addiction have yet to totally heal; the relationship between her and Kelly is strained and Lucille may soon take Kelly with her to Virginia when she retires. Any hopes of a second chance with her oldest daughter are almost gone until Kelly asks for Ana's help to find childhood friend, Omari. Played by Evan Ross, Omari, is now an HIV positive gay teen living on the streets without medication. So Ana sets out to save him before it's too late.

But who's out to save Ana from herself, her husband, Slick (Wendell Pierce), or her doctor? Both warn her that the constant street crusading could negatively affect her health if she doesn't slow down. She hears them, but stubbornly continues scouring the streets to find Omari while giving condoms and Life Support pamphlets to those along the way. Such willingness to sacrifice her health and their family angers Slick. He thinks Ana's being manipulated and knows her real motivation is to gain Kelly's favor and respect. Not to mention, they already have a second chance to right the past with their young daughter, Kim.

The underlying theme of redemption makes this story universal. Everyone can relate to wanting a second chance. But how do you determine if someone deserves it? Ana turned her life around and made negatives into positives for herself, her family, and her community. Shouldn't that be enough? She and the other women of Life Support could wallow in bitterness and self-pity, but there's no role of victim for anyone to play in this film. What happened to them doesn't define them as women. They are still capable of loving, laughing, and living life to the fullest, if they choose to do so.

Executive Produced by Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah, and Shelby Stone, Life Support was co-written and directed by prolific author and columnist, Nelson George. His inspiration for the film was his family, but specifically his sister, Andrea. In an interview posted on HBO's website he states:

"There are characters based on my sister, my mother even a couple of my nieces. But it's not just a family story. The issues that my family is confronting are American challenges. It's a story about the community of people in America who are dealing with the [HIV] virus. And not dying with the virus, but living with the virus. Very few movies have been made about living with it. The past continues to live with you. I think the true strength of the film is that it's about how difficult it is to forgive."

To learn more about this film and organizations addressing the issue of HIV and AIDS in your community please visit And to read how actress, Sheryl Lee Ralph, uses her talents and activism to address the issue read review, "Sometimes I Cry" here: Just click her name to the right.

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