During the AIDS crisis, ACT UP's radicalism forced more mainstream gay-rights groups to step up their game.
Sep 28, 2012
(AP Photo/Tim Clary, File)
Starting with my inability to believe Mitch McConnell isn't one of Disney's talking teapots gone rogue, there are plenty of good reasons I don't and shouldn't run the zoo. But if I did, How To Survive A Plague would be mandatory viewing for Occupy Wall Streeters. First-time director David France's new documentary about the 1987-'93 glory years of ACT UP—aka AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, in case you've forgotten—is a wrenching remembrance of a gay holocaust that's already dimmer than it should be in our memory. The movie is also an exhilarating portrait of human beings discovering what they're capable of in a crisis. But above all, it's the story of how a never too numerous band of obstreperous activists successfully changed public policy.
On that count, France may gild the lily somewhat. Left out is the groundwork laid from 1982 on by the pioneer AIDS lobby, Gay Men's Health Crisis—co-founded by playwright and veteran thorn in complacency's side Larry Kramer, who moved on to help birth ACT UP once the GMHC proved too apolitical for him. The omission slights how ACT UP's radical bent ended up repositioning other pressure groups as the mainstream version of AIDS-era gay activism, an invaluable lesson in how defining the fringe can help redefine the center.