Keep reading for this compelling opinion piece by Jada.
More than 1.1 million people in the US are living with HIV. About 30 million people have died from HIV & AIDS-related causes since its discovery in 1981. Roughly 1.7 million died of HIV & AIDS in 2011 alone. Out of all those people who have HIV, one case in particular seems to stick out.
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was diagnosed with the disease in 1991 when the virus was known to kill people at a very young age. He has managed to be healthy during the past 20 years since the day he announced he had the disease.
Unlike Johnson, other celebrities have not been as open about their status. Other celebrities in Hollywood include rapper and former member of N.W.A. Eric Wright — better known as “Eazy-E.” For a long time, a lot of these celebrities did not come out about their status, maybe because of what fans might think of them.
Also, another to point out is that, unlike Johnson, a lot of the celebrities at that time who also had HIV or AIDS did not say so publicly they were nearly on their deathbed or it was not disclosed to the press until after they had died. Rock Hudson, Liberace, Robert Reed of the Brady Bunch, and Freddy Mercury of Queen all had HIV and no one knew until it was announced they were dying or had already died. This shows how the disease was looked at and how not sharing it was possibly for their own good. If the celebrities were to come out sooner about their status, maybe it could erase some of the stigma that lives with HIV.
So why is it that Magic Johnson is one of the only celebrities who has spoken out with the disease? Would it help if more celebrities talked about the subject more?
Celebrities have focused on advertising to teens about staying drug free (mainly tobacco). They often come up with really eye-catching commercials or cartoons, such as during Nickelodeon commercials they often have celebrities from Vine and Instagram to create parodies of how smoking at a party usually goes and how we can prevent smoking as a whole.
Now that the tobacco usage has gone down among teens — one out of 10 teens don’t smoke, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “The Real Cost” campaign, they should shift the focus to getting tested on the regular for HIV. If teen watch their favorite celebrities talk about crucial issues, teens will follow. Also when you see these anti-tobacco commercials, you don’t really see mainstream artists but more teen actors from Nickelodeon shows. These prevention commercials would be stronger if we had more famous celebrities like Beyonce, Drake, Taylor Swift or Nick Jonas. All leaders follow by example and have some type of inspiration, so celebs, let’s gear up and be the change we want to see.
Another thing that seems to be a great way to spread the message about HIV is through our favorite shows and movies. A show I recently started to get more into because of the crazy suspense and the awesome features is “How to get away with murder” (on ABC). I typically stick to the main drama of the show, but in a few episodes there was a scene that talked about PrEP, (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a medicine that some people who are at high-risk of getting HIV can take to prevent infection, which was very informative while also entertaining. The main focus was not the character with HIV or his boyfriend, who was taking PrEP, but it did shine some light on the two.
This is not the only time I have seen the characters in television or movies. Tyler Perry also included the topic in one of his films, “For Colored Girls,” when one of the protagonist’s husband is closeted and transmits HIV to his wife. HBO also released a movie in 2014 called “The Normal Heart,” about HIV in the 1980s. This is great because even celebrities who do not have the disease are still supportive of the people who do.
Using the media as an outlet could be a big advantage in making more people aware of HIV, and can help teens who don’t know what to do or where to get help. The message the media should convey is your HIV status should not make you feel ashamed.