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Just last month, HBO presented an adaptation of Larry Kramer’s award-winning play about the AIDS crisis, The Normal Heart. You might be surprised to learn that HBO’s long-standing commitment to creating HIV/AIDS programming has provided audiences with more than 25 films in the past three decades. The history of these films is largely unwritten, but when viewed together they tell us a great deal about how we’ve come to understand and combat HIV/AIDS. Beyond just writing a history of these programs, my article demonstrates that these films echo our cultural response to the AIDS epidemic in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s and the broader global pandemic today. That response is one that aligns with a neoliberal political agenda—a shift toward private entities performing duties that once were primarily considered the role of the state. The AIDS epidemic was largely understood through media representations such as film and television, and these HBO programs instructed people how to calm their fears in the face of AIDS, educated the public about safe-sex practices, and taught viewers the importance of compassion and ethical citizenship when it came to caring for people with AIDS.


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Communication Currents