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'How To Survive A Plague' To Become Scripted Miniseries


ABC options David France's Oscar-nominated documentary about ACT UP/TAG for TV


Image Credit: Donna Binder

Until very recently, there were not many good documentaries about the AIDS crisis. In the past few years, a number have been produced to mostly wide acclaim, with How to Survive a Plague reaching the pinnacle: an Academy Award nomination for best documentary. Although it didn't take home the prize this past Sunday, it seems the story is far from over. America may be getting its first mini-series about an embarrassing period in recent history that many in mainstream media have tried to erase or forget while playing lip service to the ongoing epidemic.

"It's still very early. We don't know how long it will be for example, so we're still working those details out," France told EW. "But I have been working on the story and on the script for some time, and I think it's going to allow us the luxury of being able to tell the story around the kind of activity that brought us to the end of the plague, and to find out what is left for us."

"We know we'd like it to be an extended story that's not just about AIDS and what AIDS wrought but about this tremendous civil rights movement that grew from the ashes of AIDS and the dawn of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement," France told The Hollywood Reporter. He's had the idea of a TV adaptation for more than a year but most television networks have shied away from that genre.

Disney-owned ABC hasn't aired a miniseries since 2008's A Raisin in the Sun, which starred Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, and Audra McDonald.

"ABC is the network of Roots," France said, referencing the Emmy-winning African slave landmark television event of 1977. "For ABC, this is a continuation of a dialogue that they've had with their viewers and with history, and that to me was the most decisive and convincing fact in our discussion -- this idea that we can do that again and that we can be that for the gay community."

According to new producer John Lyons, audiences can expect an array of never-before-seen footage from the 1980s and '90s. "These activists may have had to train themselves for the battle, but they were incredibly media savvy and were constantly filming everything," Lyons explained. "So there's this treasure trove of this archival material, which we think can be cleverly introduced into the storytelling."

While this is a narrative to inspire optimism, it hasn't all been good for those involved in How to Survive a Plague. As the New York Times recently detailed in a surprisingly frank and honest story in the Sunday Styles section by Jacob Bernstein, AIDS activist Spencer Cox, who is featured in the documentary, didn't surive to see all of the acclaim.

As Bernstein writes about the tragedy of Cox's death on December 18, 2012:

Was it "pill fatigue," a term applied to patients who grow exhausted taking a variety of medications daily and then become noncompliant? Why would Mr. Cox devote his life to obtaining lifesaving medications for people all over the world, only to stop taking them himself?

Was Mr. Cox trying to kill himself after several years in which the side effects had been nearly as bad as the disease? Or could crystal meth have been to blame?

The answer may be more complicated than any of them acknowledged.

We can probably expect to see the miniseries dedicated to his memory as well as the millions who have died due to AIDS and HIV-related issues.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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