Elevate Difference

All of Us

Emily Abt's emotionally stirring documentary, All of Us, takes us not just on a journey from the South Bronx to Ethiopia and back, but to a place deep within ourselves. The film follows Dr. Mehret Mandefro, as she embarks on a mission to uncover the truth behind the startling statistics regarding women of color and HIV infections in the United States. According to the film, African-American females compose approximately 12% of the population, yet according to the 2005 CDC report, a staggering 66 % of this minority accounted for new infections with the virus in the United States. The dynamics of power, control and domination play a role in the rising rate of HIV infections. However, other crucial factors are also explored including social roles, the exploitation of women and a prison culture that allows the epidemic to thrive.

The film takes us into the personal lives of two HIV positive women struggling with not just their health but with the effects of being a disadvantaged minority. Chevelle, an addict since she was a teenager, is recently clean, raising a family and looking forward to her upcoming wedding. Positive and motivated, she is determined to get an education and to share her life experience with young African-American women who may be about to follow the same destructive path that she once did. Tara, on the other hand, is not just battling HIV but also cervical cancer. However, her deepest personal struggle may be her inability to say no to her partner given her painful past experiences of sexual abuse and rape. Her relationship is on the rocks as her fear and frailness do not hinder her boyfriend from pressuring her to have sexual relations as she is recovering from surgery.

Perhaps the real power struggle confronts the viewer when we see Dr. Mandefro herself become vulnerable in her personal life. Not just this experience but also her visit to her home country, Ethiopia, a country that has the sixth largest AIDS infection rate in the world, as well as a 'truth circle' with her privileged friends leads her to the conclusion that strong educated women are also facing a silent power struggle in the bedroom. This may be one of the most significant aspects of the film, as it emphasizes that this is not a social class issue as it may initially be perceived to be. The reality is that young, educated, empowered women are also vulnerable and risk infection because of the dynamics that thrive in their personal relationships.

All of Us is not about a young Ethiopian-American doctor, nor is it about HIV-positive women residing in the South Bronx. It is about us as women. It is the story of every woman, what we know versus what is expected of us, and ultimately, the decisions we make given the circumstances that society and culture have thrust upon us. At the core of this film is a moving realization of empowerment. It is the reality that regardless of social status, education or economic advantage we all still live as women in a society where men may have the final say not just in how we live, but rather in how we die.

Written by: Aneesa A. Baboolal, September 23rd 2010

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