So much amazing work has been done in recent years to break down stigmas and celebrate diversity in regards to gender, sexuality and identity, but there’s always more work to be done. In that spirit (and just in time for Pride!), the new Canadian Much Studios documentary Positive is working to bust the stigmas, stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding HIV.
The doc introduces audiences to five Millennials—Stuart MacLeod, Justin Anantawan, Cameron Chase, Julio Reyes and Xica DaDiva—who all identify as HIV+ (a distinction addressed in the film), and follows them during the high and lows of their daily lives and is anchored by a roundtable discussion moderated by Much creator Michael Rizzi that touches on a range of topics from sex to family to allyship to dancing through fear.
The participants come from different backgrounds and experiences but share the common goal of wanting to change the conversation surrounding HIV, especially the misconceptions about what it actually means to be “positive” and live your life.
“A lot of what we generally experience, we’re asked to go through privately, so to get an opportunity to get a little more exposure on something like this—specifically on how we deal with it on a day-to-day—I was like, ‘Yeah, no question,'” MacLeod told etalk about signing on to the project.
Chase was less eager to let the general public into his private life.
“Weirdly enough, I was actually the opposite,” he admitted. “It took a little bit of convincing because I am a very, very private person but then I kind of realized at this one point that this is a bigger issue than just me and if I’m going to make something good out of something that’s been kind of terrible, I might as well go all out.”
Producer-editor Max Kopanygin says one of the most significant takeaways from the short film is that everyone handles their diagnosis differently and that’s okay.
“What I took away from it is that there’s no one way to live with an illness and that’s kind of a misconception we have with HIV,” he said. “Hearing such diverse stories from such diverse backgrounds just kind of enriched it.”
Another theme in the doc is that while research and medical advancements in HIV treatment have evolved and improved in the previous decade, the stigma surrounding the diagnosis has barely changed at all. The participants discuss how decades of demonstrations and activism plus programs like U=U (undetectable=untransmittable) are slowly working to spread facts about HIV and connect the illness to the real humans living with it.
“I have the privilege and honour of knowing people who have lived with HIV for 30, 40 years and the stories that they tell about what they went through make me feel very privileged and make me feel that what I’m going through is absolutely nothing compared to what they did,” Xica, an HIV and trans advocate, shares in the film.
The group also tackles the tricky issue of allyship and what people who are HIV-negative can do to support someone they know who is living with HIV. Hint: the more you educate yourself, the better.
“You may not understand what we’re all going through, but just take that moment to be in that person’s shoes,” Julio says in the doc.
And now is the perfect time to start. Check it out below or catch it streaming June 22 at 8:30pm on MTV and June 23 on Crave.