Film Reviews

Review: ‘Nothing without Us’

Hot Docs 2018


Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS
(USA, 67 minutes)
Dir. Harriet Hirshorn
Programme: Silence Breakers (International Premiere)

Nothing Without Us demands we learn the names of women activists across the globe in the fight to end HIV/AIDS. The fight for visibility, recognition and access to services is impeded by gender, race, location and economic disparities. Nothing Without Us addresses these issues head on by centring the voices of those most affected by the virus. All of the main characters are women of colour living with HIV and working within their communities. Most of them are doing this vital work today, right now. This is what makes the film so important: it represents HIV/AIDS as it is today, affecting millions of people worldwide, while acknowledging and paying homage to the history of activists who worked, and continue to work towards its eradication.

The film begins with a beautiful portrait of Katrina Haslip, an early activist in the epidemic, who found out she was HIV positive while incarcerated and started organizing for the rights of positive inmates. At the time, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) had a limited definition of HIV that did not include symptoms particular to women’s bodies, such as yeast infections. This meant women were systemically denied treatment. Haslip was part of a group that worked to change the definition, so that women were able to receive services.

Haslip sets the tone for the rest of the movie. We meet women in Burundi, Nigeria, New York and New Orleans who are trailblazers in their own communities, they reveal their personal stories and locate the specific structural barriers they face in accessing medication, health care, education and support.

This film is as diligent in carving the history of a movement as it is in taking the time to honour each woman’s story. Harriet Hirshorn, herself a long-time activist, masterfully weaves together a choir of voices while maintaining a clear and distinct narrative and call to action. Her blending of archival footage with present-day interviews memorializes the foremothers of a movement while anchoring the story in contemporary society. As Nigerian activist Morolake Odetoyinbo succinctly says “it’s not just about getting access to medicines, it’s about policies that make it worth being a woman. It’s about policies that protect the lives of women, that invest in the health of women, that invest in the education of women, that supports and provides services.” There are some movies that leave you speechless, this one left me screaming: Beautiful! Impassioned! Inspiring! Necessary! Break the silence. See this film.

Nothing without Us screens:
-Mon, Apr. 30 at 1:15 PM at Scotiabank
-Sun, May 6 at 9:00 PM at Scotiabank

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!