Flashback: Real-Life AIDS Lessons For Two Playing a Part (1995)

Real-Life AIDS Lessons For Two Playing a Part

By John J. O'Connor
New York Times
December 7, 1995

Pity the do-good project that winds up more irritating than illuminating. Pity indeed Positive: A Journey Into AIDS, an "Afterschool Special" on ABC at 4 P.M. today.

The primary players here are two actors who figured in a recent AIDS story line on ABC's General Hospital. Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough), hard-working A student, fell in love with Michael (Stone) Cates (Michael Sutton), runaway drifter, only to discover that Stone had AIDS. As Robin prepared to deal with Stone's death, she discovered that she was H.I.V.-positive.

This documentary goes behind the scenes to show how Ms. McCullough and Mr. Sutton prepared for their roles by, as the network puts it, meeting "real men and women" coping with AIDS. In short, these are two actors, terribly sincere and earnest, doing research. Their efforts, along with those of everyone connected with the production, are shimmering with the best of intentions. But the little lessons sprinkled along the way tend to be distressingly slight. A producer confides, for instance, that "one of the things to be learned is we should take nothing for granted."

Yes, this is intended for young audiences (and fans who can't get enough of General Hospital), but AIDS has been part of public debate for some 15 years now. Teen-agers are generally aware of the risks of unprotected sex. It's really time to move beyond insights that more often than not are pointlessly consoling.

Visiting a hospice to read a patient stories from "The Book of Angels," Ms. McCullough learns that the man has died. "I was just, like, shocked," she later tells Mr. Sutton. "It was so weird." Why? The actors had been told that all of the hospice residents would probably be dead in six months. It's as if no one was listening, only waiting to indulge themselves in theatrical grief.

Mr. Sutton, to his credit, does sense the inherent artificiality, noting: "I didn't like the fact that I was an actor and he was really going through it. It wasn't fair." Meanwhile, we are given a glimpse of one person with AIDS gathering beautiful flowers in a luxurious garden while the song "Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven's Door" plays on the soundtrack. It's all too easy and ultimately deceptive.

A postscript reads: "In tribute to all those whose lives have been touched by AIDS." Lovely. But it's long past time for some anger for all those whose lives are still being devastated and destroyed.

Produced and directed by Eamon Harrington and John Watkin. Shelley Curtis, co-producer; Hope Kaplan, associate producer. Produced by Planet Grande Pictures. Wendy Riche, executive producer. With: Michael Sutton and Kimberly McCullough.

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