UNIFIED – HIV Health & Beyond Targets Cisgender, Heterosexual Women in Ad, Receives Mixed Reviews
The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS – Detroit Chapter hosted a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day conference on Friday at Michigan State University – Detroit Center. The conference, which attracted around 25 people, marked the premiere of UNIFIED – HIV Health & Beyond’s new public service announcement, “#PrEPProtects.”
The two-minute, 10-second spot – the first of three UNIFIED plans to produce – was geared toward heterosexual, cisgender women and featured a voiceover by poet Frenchie Davis. Images in the video feature a heterosexual couple while Davis is heard telling the story of a heterosexual woman who contracts HIV from her heterosexual male partner.
The statement, “When the condoms are left on the dresser or still in the store don’t forget to check under the bed for the demons on the floor,” is repeated multiple times throughout what viewers described as a “dark” and “haunting” video.
“We wanted to break the stigma that PrEP is only for MSM – men who have sex with men – and only for the gay community,” said Christopher Woolfolk, a linkage to care specialist with UNIFIED. “So we broadened it up and added a heterosexual couple where the woman was exposed to HIV. We wanted to break the stigma, because at one of our meetings we had a heterosexual female who said, ‘I feel like I’m not being represented in any of these images we’re seeing. I feel like when we talk about HIV I’m not included.’”
But the way the video depicted that inclusion and the repeated usage of the word “AIDS” instead of “HIV” made some in the room feel uncomfortable.
“It’s a nice commercial however I am not one who would be willing to show this to clients or to even have people see it,” said Satrise Tillman, a linkage specialist for Link-Up Detroit. “One, it’s too long. Second, I don’t like the fact that she’s mentioning AIDS, AIDS, AIDS. Let’s start with HIV first and then get to the AIDS part. And the third thing I felt like she was saying is that it’s his fault all through the commercial.”
Chunnika Hodges, program coordinator for the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS – Detroit Chapter and GEM-EIS specialist for UNIFIED, justified the usage of the words AIDS in the video.
“How many clients that you deal with actually have that thought, and perception and that real fear?” she said. “Those thoughts are things I hear from women every day.”
Hodges, who identifies as heterosexual, was direct.
“I’m a cisgender woman who was in a two-year relationship who contracted HIV and I did everything under the sun to protect myself other than to say, ‘Hey, baby, let’s go get tested,'” she said. “This is a series that we started, but we wanted to speak to the heterosexual woman because our voices are not being heard in any prevention messages or PrEP messages at all. So this is geared to our fears, our thoughts, and perceptions.”
In the audience was Undrea Goodwin of Detroit, who believes “If you’re a worker showing that to a consumer it’s good. But a lot of people that I surround myself with – they can be older women and they have no clue. I’m thinking about those people. Not the ones you can sit down and talk to, but the ones who have no clue. The whole video just screamed AIDS, so that will feed into exactly what it is they think and they don’t have anyone to explain it to them,” said Goodwin.
Some took issue with the fact that the video is available for public dissemination on YouTube.
“If someone happens to see that and they don’t have that support that’s going to be an issue,” said Clarence Peeples, a community outreach specialist with the Detroit Health Department. “My initial reaction was that it was dark. I watched it three times. The first time I was thinking I don’t like it because it’s dark and she talks about dying soon and it perpetuates all those stigmas. But when I watched it and read the words and listened it was pretty powerful. But depending on where you are you might miss it at first.”
Terrance Crenshaw of Detroit, also in the audience, said he liked the video and he understood it and its purpose.
“I’m really good at reading between the lines,” Crenshaw said. “There was a message there that a lot of people didn’t pick up on. It was saying pay attention to this message because there’s more to this disease than you realize. A lot of you paid attention to the negative aspects of this video, but she’s talking about something that everybody needs to be aware of. Pay attention to the message. That’s all that piece was doing was trying to get you to think deeper.”
Woolfolk said the video was designed to get viewers thinking.
“This is not the answer,” he said. “This is the start of a conversation.”
To view the video on YouTube, search for #PrEPProtects. For more information, visit http://miunified.org/Home.