“Anyone can get HIV,” says AIDS activist Andrea Williams, on the phone early one night from her Brooklyn home. “I’ve met HIV-positive women who’ve done nothing other than get married, be mothers, raise their kids. They didn’t do a thing wrong; they just had sex with their husbands.”
Williams knows firsthand the reality of living with the virus, having been found positive in 1993. She’s battled drug addiction, the harsh side effects of HIV treatment and the stigma of having the disease—all while trying to raise her children. This month, Williams’s real-life drama serves as inspiration for the provocative new HBO film Life Support. Cowritten and directed by Williams’s brother, author Nelson George, Support stars Queen Latifah as an HIV-positive former addict who, in search of her teenage daughter’s missing friend, investigates the seedy world of drugs and down-low sex.
“It’s a very difficult thing to turn such a tragedy into something positive,” says Latifah, who, along with Jamie Foxx, executive-produced the film. “I wanted to be all over this project and wear as many hats as I could. Andrea Williams and the other women in the story are everyday heroes.”
For the past six years, Williams, who now works for Life Force, a Brooklyn outreach program funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has pounded the pavement with her rolling suitcase of pamphlets and condoms, speaking to everyone from IV drug users to senior citizens. “The message is simple,” she says. “Get tested; use condoms; don’t get HIV.”
Latifah hopes this story will inspire folks to speak up about the effect HIV is having on our community. “If Life Support gets dialogue going, then we’ve all done a good job,” she says. “Let’s not forget: This is a preventable disease. Our people do not have to be dying.”