When AIDS Was Funny (2015)

Recordings of press conferences at the Reagan White House reveal the shocking indifference, and sometimes outright derision, which the administration dealt with the growing AIDS epidemic.


Scott Calonico




Credited cast:
Lester Kinsolving Lester Kinsolving ... Himself (voice)
Larry Speaks Larry Speaks ... Himself (voice)


Recordings of press conferences at the Reagan White House reveal the shocking indifference, and sometimes outright derision, which the administration dealt with the growing AIDS epidemic.

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Documentary | Short



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December 2015 (USA) See more »

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Media, politicians, outsiders from the AIDS cause...they didn't care.
30 April 2019 | by Rodrigo_AmaroSee all my reviews

This one's hard to make a point or a glowing or downer review, and even more difficult to where to begin how to pinpoint the importance this short film has but on the other way how low mankind and politics can go in inhuman levels. Those know who lived the era or came to know in years to come how HIV/AIDS were treated all around the globe knows how tough and shocking it was, people simply didn't care except those who were dying from it. And most of us know how Reagan administration treated the issue back in the early 1980's - a disease that hit people and the news medias in 1981 but Mr. Reagan only mentioned it for the first time in 1985 and by then - the gay disease as it was known - had already claimed the lives of thousands of people. It's too bad this documentary doesn't show that moment the U.S. president said AIDS for the first time (all we know is that September 85 was the period a month before Rock Hudson, one of his best friends die from it and making all the headlines and then the virus became a prominent issue).

Scott Calonico's film presents a dark, sinister, cynical and uncaring part of AIDS history: the earliest press conferences by the White House related to HIV/AIDS topic. In 1982, journalist Lester Kinsolving asked then press secretary Larry Speaks on how this new disease was treated by Reagan administration. The man knew nothing, completely oblivious to the cause and when the gay community was mentioned the attendees of this conference, several reporters, kept laughing on the matter. Everything is presented through audios and images of the figures involved, mostly Speaks and Kinsolving; and the questions rise through the years while a picture of AIDS victims along with the death toll are shown in between those conferences which somehow always brings laughter in that audience: a pivotal moment is when the reporter asks if Reagan had AIDS and Speaks throws to the man "Well, do you have it?". My level of outrage was going through the roof. One simply cannot put AIDS and funny on the same sentence - well, the director used it usely and got away with it, but that was the point. 1) You wanna see what's all about and 2) You have to conclude if it is funny what went there or not. Trust me, it's not. It's enraging the level of mismanagement, indifference and not a positive word on "we're working on it", "we have a budget to cure it" or "we feel sorry about the victims". Nothing! It's all treated as a joke that only the usual status quo (then and now) would find it funny.

The film works in shaking us from our reality, to remember a time when prejudice, death sentence about an unkwnon virus and panic among population were one of the most disastrous things that ever happened in the 1980's and to see how to a minor ridicuous group of people it was the talk of the town but as a funny anedocte. As evidenced in Shilts "And the Band Played On", the level of news reports about AIDS was very limited, never on the front page and usually two or three paragraphs - except in scientific publications or gay communities papers (San Francisco and New York only). And through a research after this film, I came to know that the daring reporter Kinsolving was only interested in asking about the HIV/AIDS topic on those White House meetings just to push the politicians buttons. That man is not dedicated to the gay cause, in fact, it's quite the opposite. But we're thankful for him and his act because it brought light to the issue, it brought those haunting words in that majestic house and then they had to come up with a response...which came years too late. As for the moronic Speaks, a few years later after his press secretary tenure, he revealed that most of the time he had to come up with answers on the spot but things that could reflect Reagan's way of thought. So, there goes to show that old man didn't care about AIDS neither its victims. Come and see it. 8/10

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