State of Denial

Article excerpt

State of Denial. Directed by Elaine Epstein. South Africa, 2002. 82 minutes. DVD and VHS formats. Distributed by California Newsreel, www.newsreel.org. $195.00 (college, corporation, or government agency). $49.95 (high school, public library, or HBCU).

State of Denial, a documentary written and directed by the South African-born filmmaker Elaine Epstein, depicts the HIV/AIDS crisis that affects millions of South Africans. Concentrating on the government's inaction in providing antiretroviral treatment to public clinics, and showing the struggles of ordinary South Africans coping with the emotional stresses and physical hardships of the disease, the film offers viewers a window into the lives of AIDS victims, health-care workers, doctors, and activists with the express purpose of addressing a sensitive topic so that people will understand the severity, complexity, and urgency of the HFV/AIDS epidemic.

State of Denial begins with the sobering fact that in the year 2000 there were over four million people infected with HIV in South Africa alone. Despite soaring infection rates, President Thabo Mbeki remained steadfast in his position that scientific evidence has not proved that HIV causes AIDS and that the disease might be more a symptom of poverty. Mbeki is shown speaking to Parliament and at the International AIDS Conference, each time refuting the direct link between HIV and AIDS. To support his claim, Mbeki invokes theories advocated by dissident scientists, theories that the majority of HIV/AIDS researchers have long since discredited. One impact of his denial is that some South Africans, believing that HIV/AIDS is a less severe problem than it really is, refuse to take medicines that might help them or to use condoms to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Emphasizing the vital work of health-care providers, State of Denial profiles Buyile Montjane, a volunteer caretaker for ailing AIDS patients who travels two or three times each week to the mining town of Carletonville. Under apartheid, South African men were forced to migrate to the mines in order to support their families and pay their taxes, living far from home in predominantly male townships like Carletonville for months at a time. In such circumstances, alcohol abuse and prostitution were common, condom use was less common, and HIV spread quickly throughout mining towns and beyond. …