And the Band Played On
And the Band Played On , a movie based on the work of late journalist Randy Shilts, adapted for Cable TV by Arnold Schulman documents the lives of the unfortunate AIDS victims. The story depicts discovery of the epidemic that no one wanted to speak or face. The epidemic threatened the life of many, but very few were ready to take on the challenge. The progress against tackling the threat of AIDS was considerably hampered due to infighting and official indifference to what was initially perceived as a gay disease. Even as the Gay leader Bill Kraus is dying, the doctors have failed to identify the mysterious disease. Dr. Don Francis (Modine) and his team is struggling to investigate into what later came to be identified as AIDS epidemic. They find the results in bits and pieces. Initially, they have linked it sexual intercourse. Later, they discover, it can also spread through blood transfusion.
There was a lack of serious scientific efforts at experimentation into this epidemic known to attack homosexual men. Meanwhile the death toll is mounting even as the Center for Disease Control stubbornly resists any attempt to prove that disease could spread through blood. The gay community strongly disbelieves their role in the mysterious disease and the American and French teams end up in hostile arguments over who should get the recognition for discovering the virus. Dr Bob Gallo (Alan Alda), tries to take all credit for discovering AIDS virus when in fact, the virus was identified first by a team of researchers in France. He tried to switch samples provided by a team from Pasteur Institute.
While Dr. Don Francis (Matthew Modine) does a commendable work at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta working long hours selflessly with substandard equipment, the American Red Cross projects a poor image by refusing to for blood screening. President Regan, a Republican too doesn’t come off well politically. Not only has he slashed the CDC funding but is shown in a speech boasting, he has cut the funds to every department except Defense. He appears oblivious to the plights of gays, and the other HIV positive victim groups like drug users, hemophiliacs, and new born babies.
One scene depicted in the movie said it all. It might perhaps have been the most touching moment in the movie, when an HIV positive character in the movie says, “This is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is not a gay issue. This is a human issue. And I do not intend to be defeated by it. I came here today in the hope that my epitaph would not read that I died of red tape.” And the fact is hundreds and thousands of innocent HIV positive victims died precisely for that reason. The public health department and the Government were totally apathetic to the suffering of the gay community.
Shilts has done a serious investigation on AIDS as San Francisco Chronicle reporter assigned to the story in 1982. He discovered that the disease was not taken very seriously because it involved gays and drug addicts. The Govt. as well as medical community remained apathetic to it. The media too showed little interest in the story. There was also a variety of misunderstanding on the transmission of the disease leading to mass phobia among Americans. Had the Republican Govt. funded the health agencies a large number of lives could have been saved. Regan remained apathetic towards this epidemic till Rock Hudson died of it in 1987. Later, Regan directed the Surgeon General to provide a report on the epidemic