In the early 1980’s, an unlikely duo swept a panicky nation off its feet and dynamically changed the landscape of the conversation surrounding HIV/AIDS.
The first, Swiss-born Dr. Mathilde Krim, realized shortly after the first reported cases of AIDS that the new disease would raise unprecedented questions and challenges for the scientific community. Krim, deeply affected by an intimate brush with the atrocities of the Holocaust, boldly pursued new avenues in research and fought tirelessly from day one to understand and ultimately defeat HIV/AIDS from both a medical and human rights perspective.
Krim was the total package, scientific excellence personified: her distinguished features, dedication to scientific excellence and heavy accent could not have been more appropriately selected from a slew of candidates out of central casting. Though her passion for bringing hope to “the little guy”-namely, minority AIDS victims, affected the American Foundation for AIDS Research’s (amfAR) activities, the academic desperately needed a sidekick.
Enter Elizabeth Taylor.
Taylor, who had often grappled with the complications of her unprecedented fame, chose advocacy over inaction in 1984, shortly after long-time friend Rock Hudson lost his battle with AIDS. Appalled by fear-fueled discrimination and hypocrisy affecting AIDS victims, she became amfAR’s principal spokesperson, determined to bust open “the huge, loud silence” in the mainstream.
“The Battle of AmfAR,” an HBO documentary released December 1 (World AIDS Day,) beautifully documents Krim and Taylor’s crusade on the front lines of science and civil rights. Two-time Oscar winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, creators of Common Threads, an AIDS documentary released in the late 1980’s in the “eye of the storm” that masterfully combined original news footage, exclusive interviews with the likes of Krim, Taylor and Woody Allen and scientific dialogue to inform, entertain and inspire.
Dame Taylor’s outspoken approach in her role as media liaison for the organization takes center stage in Battle. In various public appearances, she makes her mark as a beautiful, passionate and unfiltered believer (during one speech, she vowed that amfAR would “make a g– d—- difference.”) Gliding seamlessly from podiums to congressional offices, Taylor captivated audiences and politicians alike, de-stigmatizing HIV-positive status and raking in critical funds for amfAR research.
That funding, combined with Krim and colleagues’ tireless laboratory pursuits, contributed in large part to the development of antiretroviral therapies to manage AIDS. In recent decades, the disease has diminished from “maybe the end of the world” to a “manageable chronic condition”; for that, we have amfAR to thank.
Friedman and Epstein fear the development of relative complacency toward AIDS due to great strides in research, education and development. A cure, not prolonged treatment, is the goal of all AIDS crusaders, after all; that goal requires sustained and long-term support.
The Battle of AmfAR challenges the next wave of scientists and advocates not simply to emulate Taylor and Krim, but to dream bigger then even they could have imagined.
– Casey Ernstes
Sources: The Battle of amfAR