HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is the story of the brave young men and women who successfully reversed the tide of an epidemic, demanded the attention of a fearful nation and stopped AIDS from becoming a death sentence. This improbable group of activists bucked oppression and, with no scientific training, infiltrated government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time. In the process, they saved their own lives and ended the darkest days of a veritable plague, while virtually emptying AIDS wards in American hospitals in the process. The powerful story of their fight is a classic tale of empowerment and activism that has since inspired movements for change in everything from breast cancer research to Occupy Wall Street. Their story stands as a powerful inspiration to future generations, a road map, and a call to arms. This is how you change the world.
In the dark days of 1987, the country was six years into the AIDS epidemic, a crisis that was still largely being ignored both by government officials and health organizations—until the sudden emergence of the activist group ACT UP in Greenwich Village, largely made up of HIV-positive participants who refused to die without a fight. Emboldened by the power of rebellion, they took on thechallenges that public officials had ignored, raising awareness of the disease through a series of dramatic protests. More remarkably, they became recognized experts in virology, biology and pharmaceutical chemistry. Their efforts would see them seize the reins of federal policy from the FDA and NIH, force the AIDS conversation into the 1992 presidential election, and guide the way to the discovery of effective AIDS drugs that stopped an HIV diagnosis from being an automatic death sentence—and allowed them to live long lives.
First-time director and award-winning journalist David France (who has been covering the AIDS crisis for 30 years), culls from a huge amount of archival footage—most of it shot by the protestors themselves (30 videographers are credited)—to create not just an historical document, but an intimate and visceral recreation of the period through the very personal stories of some of ACT UP’s leading participants. A handbook for all activists who want to make change, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE captures both the joy and terror of those days, and the epic day-by-day battles that finally made AIDS survival possible.