If you saw the latest Tyler Perry-directed film Temptation, then you know that it sent some very strong messages about people living with HIV. If you haven’t seen the film, and plan on doing so, you may want to click out now.
At the end of the film, Judith the adulterer, discovers she has HIV and Tyler’s depiction of the plot twist is a bit extreme. The visuals lead us to believe that HIV has taken such a toll on Judith that she has aged three times as fast as her husband . So much so, that Perry decides to employ an entirely different, older, actress to portray her character just a few years later. And in one of the most depressing scenes of the film, older Judith literally limps off down the sidewalk.
If you know anything about HIV, you know that’s not necessarily an accurate representation of the disease. One of the reasons it’s such an epidemic is because people are often able to look and live without visible symptoms, especially if they are taken the proper medication. (See Magic Johnson and probably a couple of people in the neighborhood, you didn’t know about.)
The Positive Women’s Network of the United States of America took issue with Perry’s portrayal of the disease and wrote an open letter expressing their frustrations and petitioned him to do better.
They begin the letter like this:
Dear Mr. Perry,
We write as people living with HIV and their allies to express our deep disappointment with your latest film, Temptation. This disappointment is made all the greater because you have done much that can be applauded. Audiences see your plays and films not simply as entertainment, but as opportunities for inspiration, spiritual healing, and unity.
They continue discussing stigma…
As you may be aware, one of the greatest barriers to addressing the HIV epidemic is the high level of stigma and misinformation attached to this simple virus. Stigma prevents people from getting tested for HIV, from protecting themselves during sex, from accessing care when they test positive, and from disclosing their HIV status to family, friends, and sexual partners. Myths and outdated perceptions about how HIV is transmitted and the implications of an HIV diagnosis have resulted in discriminatory treatment towards, and violence against, people living with HIV.
Unfortunately, Temptation can only serve to perpetuate stigma. Your film depicts people with HIV as untouchable and unlovable, doomed to a lifetime of loneliness, and unable to tell their own stories. It implies that men with HIV are sexually irresponsible and predatory. And the final image — that of a woman who has been infected with HIV due to an extramarital affair walking away alone and unhealthy — sends the message that HIV is a punishment for immoral behavior.
Read the letter in its entirety on the next page.