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Angels in America

Angels in America and Stigma

In the film, Angels in America, stigma affects some of the main characters such as Roy Cohn and Prior Walter. These two characters are living with AIDS/HIV throughout the film and are shown at pivotal moments in their life. Stigma follows these characters throughout the movies and encounters their everyday life. Susan Sontag article, AIDS and Its Metaphor, brings up how certain groups are stigmatized and the roots of where stigma originated from.

When first introduced to the character Prior, on the outside he looks to be a normal white male with no major illness. The viewer meets him at the Louis grandmother’s funeral. Prior tells Louis that he is HIV positive and that his lesion is not skin cancer related. Louis goes into a meltdown and takes the news worse than Prior does. Louis is not known to stick around when it comes to those who fall terminally ill. When Prior turns terminally ill, Louis exists out of his life for good. The stigma being a main reason for driving their relationship apart. Louis does not want to be apart of something.

Roy is briefly showed throughout the film but has a prominent place in the story line. He is a closeted New York lawyer who is infected with AIDS. He is in denial about his diagnosis and claims that he has lung cancer. With him being in the closet, he does not want to claim AIDS because he does not want to claim that he is a homosexual. One reason behind him not claiming AIDS or being homosexual is the stigma that travels with both the disease and his sexual orientation.

Sontag focuses in on the basis of stigma and marginalization with different diseases and illnesses. She says the fear that comes with certain disease are from how serious the disease is and the mortality rate. With AIDS, the stigma that followed the deadly disease was that mostly homosexual males are infected by this. This stigma made it more difficult for homosexual men and for others. According to Sontag, “From the beginning the construction of the illness had depended on notions that separated one group of people away from another- the sick from the well, people with ARC from people with AIDS, them and us-while implying the imminent dissolution of these distinctions. Those who they think may be in the safe category believed that they had better chances of not catching AIDS/HIV because they were not homosexual. This ignorance and stigma led to many infections because people did not feel apart of that category.

When it comes to Angels in America, stigma affected a lot of choices of the characters who had  HIV/AIDS and those who were involved with the characters. If stigma of the deadly disease did not exist then people would not be afraid to continue their lives after being diagnosed. They would also be able to educate themselves on if they have the disease and get help. Fear and stigma are closely related because everyone is afraid of death.

Work Cited:

Angels in America. Dir. Mike Nichols. 2003. DVD.

Sontag, Susan. “AIDS and Its Metaphors.” 153-57. Web.

Death Before Dying

In the article Death Before Dying, the focus is on the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. It also centers in on the misconceptions the natives have on how AIDS/HIV is caught and should be dealt with. Niehaus also talks about the stigma that leads to more infections and the feeling of death before being dead. The article sets off with the story of George Bila and his experience with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Bila became very ill and went to the hospital in which he was mistreated by the staff and sent home. When he went home, his family that was suppose to be taking care of him also mistreated him and left him to die. They would not clean up his feces and they only provided him with one glass of water a day. Finally his sister was angered by his mistreatment and she started to help him as much as she could since he had helped her with college payments. As the article continues, many stories are shared similar to George Bila.

Those who have contracted AIDS/HIV are usually shunned away from their families/friends and are treated as they are already dead which coined the title of this article. Niehaus says, “I observe that persons with AIDS are symbolically located in an anomalous domain between life and death, and are literally seen as ‘corpses that live’ (setopo sa gopela) or as persons who are ‘dead before dying’” (Niehaus 848). The people in South Africa are unaware on the ways of how to effectively catch AIDS/HIV to the point that they do not like to get close to those who have it. They fail to realize the only way to contract the disease is through blood transfusions and unprotected sex. So when teaching the masses, they do not preach safe sex and abstinence. It is not part of the culture because they frown upon men who are not sexually active. Men who are sexually active are not  aware of contraception which then leads to AIDS/HIV.

In Angels in America Prior and the people of South of Africa have something in common which is  after the ones they love find out they have the disease, they slowly abandon them. One thing that would be different about Angels in America and Death Before Dying is that they are in two different countries and have two separate cultures. How AIDS/HIV are handled in America and Africa are far from being the same. Treatment is available and those who have been affected can get the medicine they need with privacy. They also do not have to worry about being stoned to death when they declare that they have AIDS/HIV such as a women in South Africa. In America, the stigma is not as heavy with HIV/AIDS as it  is in Africa. People can get the help they need without the backlash.

When looking at the stigma that came with having an incurable disease, Dead before Dying shed a lot of light on how people handle those who are dying. Those with the disease become an inconvenience to those who do not have it. Those who are not threatened with the disease almost wait for those who do to die.  The reaction of those who are cleared of the disease can treat the people with it as a burden and decide to walk away. The person with the disease cannot walk away and have to deal with their fate that their death may come sooner than expected. The stigma also follows which can lead those to not getting treated, tested and caring for their love ones when they are affected.

Work Cited:

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996. Print.

Niehaus, Isak. “Death before Dying: Understanding AIDS Stigma in the South African Lowveld.” Journal of Southern African Studies. 2007.Web

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