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Commitment to Life (Documentary)

This documentary from 2023 charts the development and journey of the Aids Project Los Angeles (APLA) from 1982 through to the current day. It offers a timely oral history of the AIDS epidemic from those who lived it. The talking heads doc puts the words of the LGBTQ+ community front and centre while revisiting the peak AIDS years.

The film starts usual with a thorough account of the mysterious early days of AIDS, reports about gay disease, how it was perceived and archival clips stress the homophobia that ran rampant amid the uncertainty of the disease’s transmissibility. Survivors recall in contemporary interviews the wrenching experience of seeing loved ones die alone. Scenes discussing the APLA’s hotline calls and the need for a buddy system for Aids patients ring home how strong the LGBTQ+ community is and had to be in the face of ignorance, fear, and stigma. “It was discrimination that killed many of us,” we hear at one point. The film shares the events through which celebrities and activists raised funds and awareness through the star-studded Commitment to Life galas thrown by APLA. The film acknowledges that the media coverage of AIDS chiefly sympathized with white gay men. In reality, it shows how much AIDS ripped through Black communities with the skewed media coverage partly to blame. So in an attempt to correct that narrative, the makers give time to people from Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Trans communities ensuring they get a chance to tell their stories. Commitment to Life also shows how stars like Liz Taylor and Joan Rivers were quick to come to the aid of groups like APLA, giving the cause a boost in support and placing it in front of the eyes of those seeking to ignore it. Equally, the film explores how the death of Rock Hudson gave a familiar face to the disease.

The film occasionally evokes an air of branded content as many APLA members speak to their history in their own production. However, the absence of an arm’s length removal remains notable. Queer people were and still are at the front lines of the fight against AIDS. This film salutes the people who fought for a community in need, and one can only share the appreciation. Although there is still scope for another feature to be made that delves even further into Hollywood’s response to AIDS by interviewing surviving key players, this film serves as a vital document commemorating the essential work of the APLA and LA’s community response to the height of the AIDS crisis. (5/10)


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