Serial Passage: AIDS Race and Culture

Project Website(s)

  • Project Description

    ‘Serial Passage: AIDS Race and Culture’ is a five-year long combination documentary film series and research project. The documentary film series examines social economic and cultural factors which fuel the disproportionately high rates of H.I.V./AIDS in the African-American community and in sub-Saharan Africa. It also follows a small group of scientists’ journey to find the origin of H.I.V./AIDS. The documentary series has been filmed in the Cameroon Senegal South Africa and Uganda England Canada and throughout the United States. Pittsburgh /Westinghouse High School Student Component From January 2006 through May 2007 a total of twenty (20) African-American inner city students from Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania became ‘co-producers’ in the making of the documentary film. This group of students was almost evenly divided between male and female and included seniors juniors and one sophomore ranging in age from 15-18. In the first year the students screened and evaluated footage. In the second year they both conducted and contributed in-depth interviews. The students are the narrative voice of the entire film which is constructed from their point of view. From January 2006 to June 2006 the students screened footage of AIDS researchers virologists and biologists conducting field tests on monkeys and chimpanzees in the Cameroon. They watched footage of the treatment of AIDS patients and in South Africa Uganda and Senegal. The students then reported what interested them what bored them and why. They also met and talked with two prominent AIDS research scientists in person who traveled to Westinghouse High School from New Orleans and Kampala Uganda respectively. From September 2006 to May 2007 after more than half of the students in the project had graduated a smaller core group of 8 students were trained as apprentice filmmakers after school. They worked intensively with project staff at a neighborhood YMCA three hours per day 3-4 days per month. They interviewed scientists sociologists AIDS health workers pastors and people with HIV/AIDS from their own neighborhood of Homewood or the greater Pittsburgh community. They interviewed a wide variety of local residents who had contracted the disease through heterosexual and homosexual transmission as well as IV drug use. All student discussions/interviews/presentations were videotaped for use in the documentary series.

  • Abstract

    Serial Passage: AIDS Race and Culture is a multi-part documentary series. The Long-term goals are: 1) to produce a documentary series exploring the specific and devastating impact of H.I.V./AIDS upon Africans and African-Americans; and 2) to create a heightened understanding of the need for H.I.V. prevention among the high-risk group of young inner-city African-Americans who’ve so far proved unresponsive to available public health information. Specific Aims: 1) To deconstruct the racial stigma of AIDS and scientifically confront the conspiracy theories which are firmly linked to the disease in black America and in Africa; and 2) to work with an inner-city high school science class actively involving them in the making of the series. Research Design and Methods: 1) To document on film the process of scientific inquiry which led two prominent researchers to their theory on the origin of AIDS; 2) To document on film the social impact of H.I.V/AIDS upon specific African countries including Uganda and South Africa and upon African-American communities in the United States; 3) To periodically screen footage of the documentary for the high school class and conduct videotaped discussions between the students and the scientists throughout one academic year; and 4) To give the students a videotaped questionnaire at the beginning and end of the year designed to measure how much they learn about AIDS and its impact upon their particular community.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    Project staff is currently editing the documentary film series. Completion is expected by the fall of 2008. A 2 hour version of the film is planned for theatrical release in 2008-2009 followed by a longer version for television distribution on PBS or ABC in 2009.

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    The Westinghouse students also served as project research subjects completing pre and post anonymous surveys designed to determine their knowledge and attitudes about H.I.V./AIDS as well as their beliefs and practices about safe sex. The interim evaluation report compiled after the project’s first six months showed a dramatic increase in the number of students’ who felt that they understood the disease (from 18% in presurvey to 57% in post-survey) and a substantial decrease in the number of students who reported being sexually active (from 65% in pre-survey to 43% in post survey). After eighteen months project staff conducted in-depth exit interviews with the 8 student filmmakers about their sexual histories and the impact of the program on their ideas beliefs and sexual behavior. For the final evaluation report the project’s external evaluator traveled to Pittsburgh to interview the students separately. Two female students reported that they had gotten tested for HIV because of the program and insisted that their boyfriends do so as well. A third female student reported that since participating in this project she had become much less enamored of a partner who has multiple sexual partners. The fourth female student reported that she chose not to use condoms because her boyfriend would become suspicious if she suddenly introduced condoms into their 3 year long relationship. Two male students reported they were not sexually active at the conclusion of our program one because of his continued belief in abstinence; the other because he was between relationships. The two remaining male students reported always using condoms with new sexual partners and using condoms at the beginning of a relationship with a longstanding and trusted sexual partner. All students reported that they greatly preferred the interview/social impact portion of our program to the purely scientific portion. They said that the interviews and life stories of people with AIDS in their community made the science ‘real.’

  • Resources for Sharing

    The project has also received IRB approval to conduct a widespread evaluation study of the film-s impact in two high schools in the Pittsburgh Public School District during the 2008-2009 academic year. In that same period project staff will work with WQED (PBS/Pittsburgh) and possible SEPA partner to develop a classroom curriculum.

Project Audience

high school college students adults general public.

Subjects Addressed

HIV/AIDS impact on African-American community/ sub-Saharan Africa