According to data from the CDC, at the end of 2007, blacks accounted for almost half of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in America.
Marline Hines works at New York City’s oldest minority AIDS service organization, Faces, where she leads a women’s support program called the Asha Project.
Four hundred women have already passed through this program, which aims to help women address the emotional baggage that comes with the virus. The most common feeling? Shame.
“Even in the process of role playing, they can’t say it,” Hines said. “Even though I’m not their daughter, it’s hard for them to just say ‘I’m positive.’”
It’s that kind of shame and secrecy that filmmaker Claudia Pryor witnessed while making the documentary, Why Us? Left Behind and Dying.
“I learned that our internal secrecy and shame absolutely drives this in our community,” Pryor told theGrio in a sit-down interview.
“And probably the biggest thing I learned is that underlying that is a self-hatred and self-denigration that makes us feel that we are unworthy of being projected,” Pryor said.
“Why Us?” follows a group of inner-city Pittsburgh students as they investigate why HIV rates are so high in black communities.
The students interviewed leading experts, people with the infection in their neighborhood, and activists, all while having their reactions to the study monitored.
Tamira Noble is the narrator and was one of the students involved in the study. While working on this project, Noble learned that secrets hit close to home.
“I didn’t think I knew anyone with HIV, so it wasn’t very personal,” Noble said. “It became personal when I got involved because then all of these secrets started spilling from my own family. And that’s when I found out that I had an uncle that died of HIV/AIDs. His name was Edward. I had never heard of him until I had started on this project. Then I found out one of my cousin also has HIV/AIDs and I wasn’t even allowed to know this cousin until I joined this project.”
Keeping secrets under wraps is something Hines says is a value the black community has upheld for generations.
“Black people has a culture that is southern, that is old-fashioned,” Hines said. “What’s said in the house, stays in the house.”
But those involved in getting the word out hope that despite this deep-seated tradition, their community will take ownership of their personal safety and get tested.
“Just want people to see the film and get tested,” Noble said. “I mean, if everyone could look it and learn something from it that’s good. But if people learn from it and get tested then I’ve accomplished what we were trying to do.”