Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.
Since the epidemic first appeared in the early 1980s, black gay/bisexual men and transgender people have been disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. Organizations, such as Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), have struggled to mount prevention campaigns to respond to the soaring infection rates, particularly among young black men—gay, bisexual and transgender. This panel will explore the factors impacting HIV/AIDS prevention and services for this community.
One of the panelists, Hayat Hyatt, is a Brooklyn-based playwright and artist currently undertaking research for his next project, Villanelle. Below he shares his inspiration for the documentary and what led him there.
Villanelle really began in 2011 during the final workshop for my play, A Little Bit Past 9, which focused on a pregnant man, his lover and their families from the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s to the present. After developing the play for a year and watching it with an audience, I realized I hadn’t done enough research on the time period or AIDS itself, and the text reflected my ignorance. And so did the characters. None of the characters were black or people of color.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with writing a play with only white characters—people do it all the time. But I felt a strong responsibility to raise awareness to the continuing AIDS crisis and epidemic within the black community.
So, rather than going back to work on a new draft of the play, I immediately asked friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends for advice (thank you MIXNYC, VisualAIDS, Union Docs, and Other Countries). I started setting up interviews and recording them with whoever showed interest in the project. Each interview led me to a new book, or a new source or a new place, and Villanelle was born - an essay film that uses poetry, found materials, and documentary to explore the diverse emotions and experiences of gay black men and the larger black community during, before, and after the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
What surprised me at the very beginning of this project was the strong role stigma continues to play in the crisis. It didn’t surprise me to find that such stigma existed (and obviously continues to exist today) but the extent to which shaming continues to prevent people of not only black men and women but people of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds from educating and protecting themselves, surprised me.
Since then, I’ve conducted many interviews with men and women over 40, who were of age during the early years of the crisis and have shared very powerful stories of their own experiences and also memories of friends who were either queer black artists and activists, or ordinary people doing great things.
At the moment I’m still editing, and hopefully wrapping sometime in the new year. If you’re interested in learning more about my project, or being interviewed, please email me,
Register for the program!
This program is presented by the Ordinary People series, a program series centered around black LGBTQ films, books and politics presented by In The Life Archive of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Division.