The Bible Belt is a red slash across the southeastern U.S., not coincidentally also marking the part of America that advocated for slavery and that currently has the highest national rates of poverty and HIV diagnoses. Half of U.S. AIDS deaths occur in the South.
Lisa Biagiotti's poignant slice-of-life documentary "deepsouth" follows four rural Southerners fighting for acceptance and understanding, resources and funding for positive people in their communities, accompanied by John Chin's haunting score.
Young, HIV-positive African-American Josh has to leave Delta State University due to lack of funding, but doesn't want to return to his Mississippi Delta hometown of Cleveland, the location of his unsupportive relatives and site of a previous suicide attempt. He doesn't feel like himself there, saying "When I'm at home, I'm just a clone, somebody that wants to be me. I have a smile on my face, but inside I'm screaming." Instead, he seeks comfort in a group of friends miles away, his "gay family made by God."
In Columbia, Louisiana, Monica Johnson and Tamela King run the Heroes outreach program on a shoestring, and the film follows them planning and hosting their annual "Dream" conference to connect and strategize about regional response to the pandemic. Positive participants talk about being ostracized and forgotten - one proclaims, "I don't have time or T cells to waste" - especially since many of these communities, by law, must teach only abstinence and not mention condoms (consequently, Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy and the most STIs).
Kathie Hiers spends a third of the year away from her job running AIDS Alabama, mostly stumping in Washington for federal advocacy and funding. She's an expert national speaker, and knows her stats. While waiting for her luggage, she tells an African-American passerby that 1 in every 16 Black men in D.C. have the disease, the highest rate away from her hometown of Birmingham.
Hiers, a self-proclaimed "bright blue dot in a really red state," wanted to be a lawyer or politician, but ended up joining the fight after losing so many friends during the height of the AIDS epidemic. "There were so many deaths," she says. "I had to throw away my address book and start over."
When at home, Hiers works to renovate housing for positive populations, because "HIV is not even their biggest problem." Client issues start with lack of resources and poverty, and providing a clean, functional place to live "reduces risky behavior and improves outcomes." Danny, another advocate, drives thousands to miles to distribute HIV pamphlets to country clinics.
All these activists are united by their drive to communicate the human face of HIV when so few are paying attention. "People need to tell their stories," Hiers says. "It's like a burden being lifted."
For trailers and further info, visit http://deepsouthfilm.com>