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The television movie from 1993, “And the Band Played On” deals with the politics within the scientific community in the context of the AIDS pandemic during the 80s. Our protagonist, Don Francis, is a doctor specialized in infectious diseases whom after working with the Ebola outbreak of 1976 becomes involved in the research team of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The movie sets up the socio-political context of major gay rights movements during which the pandemic developed in, explores the politics within the scientific community, which was such a “hot” issue at the time, and delves into responding ethical questions when dealing with how much information government agencies really pass on to the public.
Our political leader comes in the form of Bill Kraus, a gay rights activist and liaison between the gay community of San Francisco and the government agencies. The main reason the movie focuses on the gay communities of San Francisco was because of the high probability of infection from AIDS bathhouses provided, as it was a common place for men to have unprotected sex with one another. Kraus had the tough task to bring together an indignant gay community that wants to keep their bathhouses, and the CDC’s desire to shut down any form of contagious methods the gay community could engage in. Then there was the issue with money and finding enough interest in Washington to fund research initiatives to combat the disease.
With the CDC, Kraus and his staff became avid supporters for a viable solution to the prevention and awareness of AIDS. However, a big factor in the inability for this effort to take the necessary speed was the lack of knowledge and funding for the CDC. Don Francis acted as the ethical entity in a highly politicized organization: there was the stigma of the disease being a “gay disease” which greatly harmed any efforts towards getting the necessary funding to effectively eradicate said stigma. Information and testing was key to breakthroughs in understanding the mysterious disease. President Reagan didn’t mention the word “AIDS” or its anteceded names until after seven years of presidency, giving a strong message to the American people of this disease being unimportant. With an over 50% mortality rate, AIDS was the most important and unnecessarily underfunded disease in modern history. However, the lack of funds for government agencies didn’t stop other organizations from investigating the puzzling virus.
The movie sets a clear divide: the French and the Americans, with Don Francis in the middle of the scientific pissing contest. According to the film, the French were really the first ones to solidify the theory that it was transmittable through blood (not in the air or by touching). The CDC originally began to prove in an internal effort but the organization didn’t come forth with the findings of the small study, instead the French and Dr. Robert Gallo (the American doctor) shared credit for any further findings on AIDS after a long battle.
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