In case you haven’t been on top of your blogger buzz, there’s been much discussion about an upcoming documentary, “25 to Life” featuring William “Reds” Brawner, whose story was featured in in ESSENCE in 2006.
He is a Howard University graduate who was infected with HIV via a blood transfusion when he was just three years old. In the film, he details how despite knowing his HIV status in college circa 1998, he was a “gregarious, outgoing ladies man” who had unprotected sex with countless women. (That gives me chills, and I have numerous friends who attended HU at that time.) To date, he is not aware of anyone who was infected with HIV.
“The point of this film is to see how and why this happened,” says Brawner, now the executive director of Haven Youth Center, Inc, an organization to support youth with HIV. “Everybody has skeletons or bones in their closet. And, really, most people try to keep them in the closet. I just know within myself that I need to be transparent for the people I care about and the people I’m serving.”
Mike Brown, the film’s director and a college roommate of Brawner adds, “We try not to vilify him, and at the same time we don’t want to make him a martyr, either. This is not some type of an apology piece… You will wish that Will made some better choices. And seeing him work through some of these issues, you’ll feel for him, too.”
Some of the “better choices” Brown refers to might be Brawner’s lack of regret for the women he willfully exposed to HIV.
Asked by news site Loop 21 if he wished he had disclosed his status sooner in his life, Brawner demurred. “Nah, I think everything happens in its time. Everything has its time and has its purpose. It was just my time.”
Uh… ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a former policy that applied to gays in the military, not a mantra to be practiced by people who knowingly are infected with HIV and actively chose to put their partners at risk for an incurable disease.
As some bloggers stumble over themselves to praise Brawner’s courage and applaud him for coming forward, I find myself unable to muster much enthusiasm or empathy. I plan to see the film when it is released (it’s currently in post-production) and I do think this is an important documentary, a wake up call to women that every man who looks “safe” isn’t, and that everyone, even those you trust, must get tested before having sex.
Still, I can’t get beyond the selfish veil of secrecy that Brawner engaged in. Perhaps, as Brown says, there’s something in this film that gives Brawner some redemption, but from all I’ve read, Brawner seems like a borderline sociopath.
I respect that he’s trying to do “right” now, but for what he did then, that he has no regret about? As my grandmother used to say, “Lord, give me strength.”
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk