For all of its cultural, historical, and medical significance, you would think Hollywood would devote more time to exploring the AIDS crisis in America. Be it the onset, politics or social repercussions of it. However, save for a few poignant and landmark films, Hollywood has explored AIDS with a near deafening silence.
30 years after AIDS emerged Hollywood continues to tentatively explore the disease with Dallas Buyers Club. Starring Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, a homophobic rodeo cowboy/electrician who finds himself stricken with HIV. He is given 30 days left to live, and after the initial shock wears off he decides that he won’t resign himself to the initial prognosis and lack of traditional medicine and takes action. Not someone to follow protocol and stick to rules he finds alternative medicines and ways of getting the drugs to other sick men.
McConaughey is getting a lot of rightfully positive attention for this film. He physically transformed himself for the role of Ron Woodroof by losing 40+ pounds and he solidly asserted himself as more than a comedic actor with this turn. Another transformation was made by Jaret Leto, playing the transvestite, Rayon who becomes Ron’s unlikely friend and business partner. Leto dissolves into the role and un-selfconsciously became his character allows the audience to be sympathetic with someone who they might find strange and maybe even repugnant in real life. He brings heart to someone who, even in our modern day culture, is either maligned as the strange other trying to hide in their own skin, or celebrated as a bombastic, fierce performer.
Upon their first meeting each is disgusted and offended by the other. Ron is a homophobic, violent drunk who emotionally alienates and cheats anyone who comes into his world. Rayon can be both soft and biting - clearly someone who has learned to take care of himself when no one else would. They discover that to survive their fates they learn to trust and rely on one another even though in other circumstances they would never tolerate cooperating. Through the evolution of the friendship between Ron and Rayon, the audience too learns to admire these characters and their strength.
While such a huge part of our modern history and central to our culture, AIDS has not been a mainstay in popular culture as other historical atrocities has. I suppose it makes perfect sense as it can be traumatizing to revisit and relive a time that is still effecting so many people directly. And yet at the same time, to not tell the story to future generations would be a mistake as it’s vital to make sure generations to come know what happened and how the revolution came at such a grass roots level thanks to vocal activists. Today, we have some key films and plays that tell the story - The Normal Heart (an award winning Broadway play and an upcoming HBO Film), The Band Played On, Philadelphia, and now, Dallas Buyers Club (and hopefully more to come) will all be a part of the legacy and education for future generations.