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Life Support (DVD)
HBO Films presents Academy Award® nominee Queen Latifah (Chicago) in a heartbreaking story of one woman's journey to the brink of self-destruction and despair, and her inspirational fight to gain back her dignity and her family. Ana is an HIV-positive former drug addict from Brooklyn, desperately struggling with her past and passionately trying to make things right with her involvement in an AIDS outreach group, Life Support. Inspired by a true story, Life Support is a touching, poignant tale of loving, losing and letting go.]]>
Though Queen Latifah is less known for her dramatic skills, films such as Life Support drive home the point that this singer turned actress has the chops to build a serious career in movies. Thanks to her work on the sitcom Living Single, everyone knows that she's funny. And musicals such as Chicago and Hairspray prove that her singing talent extends far further than rap. Here, Latifah captivates the audience with her understated performance. Based on the true-life story of writer-director Nelson George's HIV-positive sister, Andrea Williams, Life Support stars Latifah as Ana, a recovering junkie who tries to atone for her seedy past by being a loving mom to her 9-year-old daughter. In addition, she takes care of her husband, who also has HIV. But Life Support, an AIDS awareness facility that is an integral part of her life, is where Ana feels most at home. As the movie unfolds, we see how far Ana has come from her rocky beginnings, and how much more she has to accomplish before she can repair the damage from her past. One that seems irreparable is the sticky relationship she has with her estranged teenage daughter, who lives with Ana's mother (wonderfully played by Anna Deavere Smith). While there are some moments in the film that are overly maudlin, giving it more of a Movie of the Week feel than that of a feature film, Latifah's deft touch--as well as superb acting by the supporting cast--make Ana someone we all would like to help, yet are wary of befriending. --Jae-Ha Kim
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This is a real life story based on director Nelson George's sister Andrea Williams who is HIV positive. Latifah plays Ana, a character based on Williams and we watch Ana as she works hard as a community AIDS activist to spread the safer sex/HIV prevention message through Life Support, the organisation she works for in Brooklyn, New York. We also watch her while she struggles to redeem herself for her past life decisions (she was a crack addict, apparently) not only in her own eyes but in the eyes of her mother Lucille, played by Anna Deavere Smith, and of her teenage daughter Kelly, played by Rachel Nicks, custodial rights to whom she had to give up to her mother as a result of her troubled past. We also watch her as she negotiates another challenging relationship in her life, i.e. with her husband Slick, played by the excellent Wendell Pierce, who is also living with HIV. It's an amazing piece of work and we get a glimpse into what it's really like for people (mostly women though, interestingly enough - I was like, where are the men?) whose lives have been impacted by this virus. It's not always easy to watch. Look out for a brilliant performance by Evan Ross who plays Amare, a troubled young HIV+ gay man who is best friends with Kelly. It's truly gut wrenching to watch him flounder, trying to deal with a whole range of issues, without the support he so desperately needs.
On a lighter note though, Brooklyn is one of my favourite places on the planet and it was really fun to see the various great location pieces Nelson George used in the movie. I think it is noteworthy though, that this movie hasn't had the profile that I feel it deserves. It makes me wonder why not. It could be that the message I got from the movie (that HIV is out there, it's real and we're all at risk) might not be one that audiences are willing to take on board. Given that HIV/AIDS are collectively a bigger problem in our communities than they were when they first appeared 25 years ago (and not a smaller one as one might have hoped), I wonder if we have the right attitude. People are still getting infected, people are still dying and it's not just gays, drug addicts or people from sub-Saharan Africa either.
Soapbox minute over, I think it was incredibly brave of Andrea Williams to put herself forward like this, of Nelson George to tackle the issue head on and of all the actors who agreed to participate in this project, Latifah most of all. But then she's never been afraid of taking on a challenge. I've invited friends round to watch it and have lent it to others so they can invite their friends round to watch it. I truly feel this is a movie we (especially black people) all need to see. I highly recommend it.
Latifah received a well-earned Emmy nomination for her performance but was pipped to the post by an equally deserving Helen Mirren who won for her performance in Prime Suspect 7 - The Final Act. There were notable performances also, from Gloria Reuben, Tracey Ellis Ross and Darrin Henson.
DVD extras include: an on-set diary with the director Nelson George; an exclusive deleted scene; a short piece called "Interview with Andrea Williams: The Inspiration for "Life Support"", and "The Story Behind The Story" - a behind the scenes featurette with Queen Latifah, Nelson George and Andrea Williams.
Initially, I wanted to see if the characters and the information about HIV and AIDS was as close to accurate as I needed them to be, but I became absorbed in the characters and their individual stories, which is the way this disease happens. One person at a time.
There may be an epidemic among certain races and ages, but getting down to it, is the fact that each person affected, and there are numbers that statistics do not cover, including scads of children, parents, friends and relatives who do not HAVE the virus, but are affected by it's devastation for the rest of their lives, after losing someone they love so dearly.
I appreciate this movie and would recommend it to anyone. Not just a family who is affected by AIDS but to those who for the moment, have not been touched by it.
The circle of those affected draws tighter and tighter. We cannot allow ourselves to be silent due to the fact that it has not come knocking on our doors yet. If it has not, I am pretty sure that in one way or another, just like drugs, we all get affected by this killer of dreams and usurper of hope.
Zenobia L Silas-Carson