How to Survive a Plague, 2012

When I think about the word plague, I immediately think about the black plague that happened in the mid-evil times. I don’t think about recent history, I don’t think about the generation before me, and I sure as hell do not think about AIDS.

The documentary, How to Survive a Plague, made me completely rethink the word plague. Now I think about recent history, I think about the generation before me, and I more certainly think about AIDS.

I always thought that if I could travel back in time I would go to the 80s because everything was so extra. The music was amazing, the rom-com films were amazing (and yes, I’m talking about every movie with Molly Ringwald in it), and hair and makeup was done to the max. Now when I think about the 80s, I think about death, pain, and gay rights.


A little Background:

“Act up, Fight AIDS, Fight back.” 

This beautifully done documentary depicts the fight ACT UP (AIDS activists group dedicated to ending the AIDS crisis)  had to endure during the 80s and 90s. Many individuals who identified as gay started being infected with AIDS and HIV due to large amounts of unprotected sex. AIDS was also passed on through unclean needle use. At the time, the federal government was conservative and was turning a bling eye to the epidemic. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) was not coming out with effective drugs to help individuals remain stable and maintain their diagnosis. People were dying by the thousands and many from the gay community and allies knew they could not keep silent.


Vito Russo was a known AIDS activist and he said in an interview shown in the documentary Vito (2011), “It’s only fa

gs and junkies and nobody gives a shit” meaning most people did not care to advocate for people who identified as gay or people who were addicted to drugs.

Act Up decided that it was their lives, their community, and they were going to get loud and give a shit.

The documentary showed numerous clips of public protests where thousands of activists screamed for change. Drugs needed to be developed and government officials needed to acknowledge what was happening to thousands of Americans.


This documentary was created to bring light to a topic that most people, specifically the people from my generation, do not know about or understand because we were born in the mid 90s. It most definitely is pro LGBTQ+ and it’s main goal is to educate on what was happening to large amounts of people. History classes only give students a small taste of what has happened in history and it is usually written through the point of view from a old, educated, white man so documentaries such as this one, are so extremely important. The history if the AIDS crisis needs to be know. The individuals who dedicated their lives to this cause need to be recognized. All history needs to be brought to light, not just what a select few of men think is worth knowing.

I, am by no means, a historian but I was moved by this documentary. I now how the privilege of knowing what happened to the people who came before me and the amazing accomplishments they made.

Fighting the AIDS epidemic was no small task and Act Up spent years fighting for acknowledgement and effective medication. People need to understand how AIDS was fought. In the end, Act Up was able to help save the lives of many through advocating, protesting, and demanding medication. The FDA was forced to help and they eventually came out with three medications that helped maintain health while living with AIDS.


The documentary used main tools to educated viewers on the AIDS movement. Like I mentioned before, the creators showed many clips of protests. When you watch these clips, it’s as if you were at the protest too hand in hand with advocates and fighters. You feel a personal connection because the clips are so raw and the individuals in them are being completely vulnerable.

Another tool used was personal testimonies and interviews. Though many activists died due to AIDS before the film was created, you still felt as if you knew them through past clips. For those who were able to maintain their health had current interviews and they would look back on the movement and what they accomplished.  by the end of the film, I felt like I personally knew every person who talked about being a part of the movement. Feeling like you know the people in the documentary, brings the information being told even closer to your heart. Not only do you take away the knowledge of history, but you have an emotional connection to it as well. Using this method in film is so important because the audience is captured by what’s on the screen giving honor to the stories being told.

I would highly recommend this documentary to anyone my age so they are aware of what happened just years before we were born. And, I would also recommend it to those much older so they never forget the lives lost and the accomplishments gained.


France, D. (Director). 2012. How to survive a plague [Documentary]. United States:

Shwarz, J. (Producer), & Shwarz, J. (Director). 2011. Vito [Documentary]. United States: Automat Pictures.


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