Some were about to die and were rescued. Others have died because they have not reached us
Beginning in 1988, World AIDS Day (December 1st) is an international global health day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS crisis. On the thirtieth anniversary, take a look at Amr Salama’s 2011 Egyptian drama film, Asmaa.
Having made a splashy debut with Zay El Naharda (زي النهاردة), a psychological drama dealing with the emotional ordeal of losing a loved one, Salama’s follow up feature film puts AIDS in the spotlight in an authentic and sincere manner, as she presents “a true story of a strong and proud woman who has Aids but Aids does not have her”. The award-winning film examines the fear, prejudices and negative attitudes associated with the HIV-affected community.
Front and centre is Asmaa (Hend Sabry), a woman in her 40s with HIV who struggles to live under the burden of keeping her HIV status secret and the dilemma she faces when offered the opportunity to appear on a television talk show. The film takes us through the stages of her illness: from diagnosis to treatment, we witness her being shunned and misunderstood in the neighbourhood she grew up in.
As the film goes on, it ratchets up several plot twists that verge on the melodramatic, but Salama’s direction and Sabry’s performance keep the film grounded. From start to end, the HIV rollercoaster does not take the better of Asmaa. Asked why she would risk outing herself on national TV, her reply is unyielding: ‘I have nothing to lose’.
Reviews are mixed. Stephen Farber, from The Hollywood Reporter, called the film "one of the strongest movies" among those from the Arab world and “one of the best”. But whether Asmaa is indeed to your taste or not, full marks go to the Salama for bringing this taboo of a topic to the forefront of Middle Eastern cinema. Credit is deserved for striving to correct the misconceptions and lies about the disease with “love and courage” instead of war.
36.9 million people currently live with HIV. Around 1 in 7 people living with HIV are unaware they are living with the virus, as it can take up to 10 years after exposure for any symptoms to appear.