William Brawner, Howard University grad, in "25 to Life" documentary about AIDS
A documentary featuring a Howard University graduate student with AIDS hopes to raise awareness about the stigma of having the disease.
The documentary called "25 to Life" details how William Brawner had unprotected sex with countless women, all while knowing he was HIV positive.
"I suppressed my HIV status so much that I minimized it and because I couldn't express it, it didn't exist," Brawner said.
The documentary, produced by Yvonne Shirley and directed by Mike Brown, follows Brawner and his decision years later to tell former girlfriends and sexual partners with whom he had unprotected sex, that he has AIDS.
Brown attended Howard as an undergrad and had been roommates with Brawner. He was as shocked as anyone to learn his friend had AIDS.
"Emotions were raging," Brown said. "People were angry, scared, confused."
In 1981, then 18-month-old Brawner received a blood transfusion after a severe burn injury. The blood was tainted and Brawner contracted HIV.
"As a family we agreed this would be kept amongst ourselves," Brawner said.
Two decades later at Howard Univ., Brawner was considered a heartthrob.
"I was always looking for my next conquest," he said. "That's how I expressed my manhood, my bravado."
In 2006, he decided to go public.
"I feel terrible and want to apologize for that," he said.
After being featured in a story in Essence Magazine, Brawner's name became notorious on Howard's campus.
"It kind of hits close to home because it was here, it's still here," said Howard senior Meleh Spikes.
The film follows Brawner as he starts a new life and a family, and also as he tries to track down past sexual partners.
So far, none of them have identified themselves as HIV positive.
"In our country, young black Americans are disproportionately affected by this disease and we feel this film is unique in that it really targets that audience," said Shirley.
In the end, the filmmakers hope to raise awareness and provoke discussion about stigma in the black community and beyond.
"It is happening elsewhere, not just my alma matter," Brown said.
For more information, check out 25tolifefilmsite.com.
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