Held annually on December 1, World AIDS Day serves as a reminder to commemorate those who have lost their lives to HIV. To learn more about the cause, please visit worldaidsday.org
Among the important work and campaigns launching today in support of World AIDS Day comes the premiere of Sheryl Lee Ralph’s documentary Unexpected. Available today on Hulu, the documentary tells the stories of Masonia Traylor and Ciara Ci Ci Covin, two Black women who are living with HIV. The Unexpected documentary follows the lives of Traylor and Covin, and viewers are offered a glimpse into some of the remarkable work the women do for the community, including creating care packages for women recently diagnosed with HIV. Unexpected is an important step towards creating more equitable representation of people living with HIV in the media. It also drives awareness and equity for the communities most affected by HIV/AIDS (Black, Brown, and Hispanic communities), as well as demographics that are underserved and underrepresented when it comes to the epidemic (namely, Black women). This film is an incredibly important piece of art that highlights the importance of support networks and community following diagnosis. Since premiering at the 2023 Essence Film Festival, Unexpected has won two Awards of Excellence at the Accolade Global Film Competition and The IMPACT Doc Awards, and has screened at film festivals around the country.
The Oscar-qualifying film is supported by Ralph’s non-profit D.I.V.A., and is an example of Ralph’s career-long dedication to raising awareness surrounding HIV and dismantling societal stigma. Ralph launched D.I.V.A. in 1990 to honor friends during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The foundation has since raised millions of dollars to support organizations that service members of the LGBTQ+ community. Since the pandemic, the foundation’s goal has been to empower and support communities to have better health outcomes.
Furthermore, Unexpected was produced in partnership with other AIDS organizations such as SisterLove, a collective empowering Black Women who live with HIV. The film demonstrates the incredible work that people of color are doing every day to support various HIV related causes and campaigns.
Although the recent decade has seen incredible progress in effective treatment methods, access to treatments, and public awareness, HIV now disproportionately affects the south, especially Black queer men and Black women. According to the CDC, “The South now experiences the greatest burden of HIV and deaths of any U.S. region, and lags behind in providing quality HIV prevention services and care.” As the epidemic wears on, the media continues to stigmatize HIV, and fails to include the voices of those most affected by HIV.
Projects like Unexpected are necessary to challenge prejudice, ignorance, and to provide visibility for those living with HIV. The more people speak out and fight for people living with HIV/AIDS, the closer we can get to ending the epidemic. Be sure to check out this documentary, educate yourself and others, and do your part to combat the pervasive misinformation and stigma surrounding HIV. For more information, be sure to check out GLAAD’s World AIDS Day 2023 Global Resource Hub.