HIV/AIDS in American Culture

During the first years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, in the eighties and early nineties, activists protested across major cities demanding government action, some of them still hooked up to IV drips and oxygen tanks; alongside them, writers, visual artists, and filmmakers continued creating, many up until their last breath.  This course examines the relationship between different forms of cultural expression—from art to activism—during those first fifteen years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, prior to the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy. In particular, we will analyze the way in which mainstream narratives about the disease associated it with Blackness and queerness.  With a focus on the work of Black queer and trans creators and activists, we will also study how literature, film, and visual art were mobilized against these mainstream narratives in order to effect changes in public consciousness and even policy.  Finally, we will discuss the legacy of these cultural responses, particularly as it pertains to communities of color. We will do so by learning to close read across a variety of genres and media: fiction, poetry, film, theater, television, journalism, popular music, painting, sculpture, performance, and installation art. Some of the works we will analyze include: Samuel Delany’s The Tale of Plagues and Carnival; Octavia Butler’s Fledgling; Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother; Sapphire’s Push and its screen adaptation Precious; the films of Marlon Riggs; and the latest season of the television series Pose.