‘They Aren’t Putting the AIDS Story on the Screen’ : <i> If you look at the whole picture in the fight against AIDS, do Hollywood’s actions and attitudes contribute substantially?</i>

<i> Staff writers Diane Haithman and Barbara Isenberg asked key activists outside the entertainment industry for their perspective on the current debate sparked by Davis</i> ' <i> death </i>

Dr. MichaeL Gottlieb, medical director, Immune Suppressed Unit, Sherman Oaks Community Hospital. First identified the disease that became known as AIDS in 1981; served as Rock Hudson’s physician: “Hollywood has been generous with funding for research and care, but not as generous in fostering understanding. Yes, Hollywood stars are conspicuous at benefits and helping to raise funds, but in terms of the production of motion pictures and television, Hollywood has, over 10 years, dealt with the theme of AIDS and the subject of AIDS infrequently. There is great potential for Hollywood to be influential in how the public perceives AIDS, and how the federal government responds to the AIDS crisis, and that potential has not been realized.”

Paul Volberding, director of the AIDS program at San Francisco General Hospital: “I think Hollywood has come under a lot of criticism recently, and some of it probably is deserved, but a lot of entertainers have been involved--Liz Taylor is a notable example. I think the efforts have been good to (a) degree; I think there probably could be a lot more. I think the main issue is the stigma surrounding the disease: There could be more scripts pertaining to this topic.”

Larry Kramer, playwright and activist:

“Singing and dancing is indeed all that’s going on. Benefits like Sunday night’s (fund-raiser at Universal Amphitheatre) happen, and then everyone goes on and merrily forgets it. You must use your bank account and your talent both. If you are a person who claims in any way to be a human being, those are the requirements to walk this Earth, and Hollywood has failed in both regards. That 10 years into a plague there has not been one major motion picture about AIDS is abysmal.”


Rabbi Allen Freehling, former chairman of the Los Angeles County Commission on AIDS and rabbi at University Synagogue, West Los Angeles:

“I have no complaints. I believe that the role that Hollywood has played has not only been most effective in terms of fund-raising, but really to make people much more aware of the presence of the epidemic. For those of us struggling (to combat) the disease fairly early on, I think the death of Rock Hudson made a major change in public attitudes, and subsequently the loss of other prominent people in the entertainment field has brought to bear the fact that the entire nation is dealing with an epidemic of major proportions.”

Mervyn Silverman, MD, president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR):

“There have certainly been those (in Hollywood) who have been there for fund-raising, but to be honest, it’s a small percentage; it’s not an overwhelming response by Hollywood. APLA has done beautifully, through Elizabeth (Taylor) and others . . . but usually, except for Elizabeth, we have to go knocking on their doors--they don’t come knocking on our doors. You can almost count on one hand the films that have come out, and they haven’t exactly been with blockbuster stars. I would obviously like to see Hollywood get more involved in the issue and depict it more on film, so there is a face and a name with what is now basically cold, hard statistics.”


William Rubenstein, New York-based director of the ACLU’S National AIDS Project: “The seminal event (in) the whole history of the illness in the public consciousness was Rock Hudson. What Rock Hudson did was put a popular face on the illness for a lot of people . We live in a country where if the government defaults in its responsibility, the other people with the same kind of media exposure and name recognition are movie stars and Hollywood personalities. There is certainly a void for them to step into, and to their credit, some of them have done that. (People like) Elizabeth Taylor and Dionne Warwick have made a tremendous difference both financially and in the mind of the American public. “

Randy Shilts, Northern California-based author of “And the Band Played On”: “Elizabeth Taylor got AIDS on ‘Entertainment Tonight,’ and you can’t underestimate the value of that kind of exposure. It made the disease something that respectable people could talk about. There are clearly corporate executives who give checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars to the American Foundation for AIDS Research solely to get their pictures taken with Elizabeth Taylor. Rock Hudson was clearly the dividing line (but) Taylor’s first Commitment to Life was in 1985, and she signed on before Rock Hudson. She didn’t get enough credit for that (but) that was the turning point--the first star-studded AIDS-goes-Hollywood event. . . . In ’83, there was a huge fund-raiser in San Francisco for (an organization then called the San Francisco AIDS Foundation) and the only stars they got were Shirley MacLaine and Debbie Reynolds. They were the only ones (although) Joan Rivers was doing some stuff. . . . The other kind of AIDS celebrity is Susan Sarandon, who is not talking just money. Sarandon wears her ‘silence equals death’ button on ‘Good Morning, America’ and is much more political. And that’s probably more valuable. . . .”

Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation: Hollywood:

"(Hollywood) has made no impact here. We have not been a beneficiary of Hollywood community largess. People go to glitzy banquets for the largest organization but it doesn’t translate into money for (us) or other smaller AIDS organizations. We haven’t had the $10,000 or $50,000 donations from the Hollywood community. . . . In our hospices, we care for many industry people. The person who did the most was Joan Rivers, whose friend died at one of our facilities, and she did a benefit. (But) compared to the rest of corporate Los Angeles, Hollywood has done a lot. I don’t think it’s done enough, but it has done a lot. The biggest problem is they aren’t putting the AIDS story on the screen. . . . So long as the AIDS story hasn’t appeared on the screen, Hollywood is sending a very mixed message as to what its commitment is.”