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All of Us Film Review

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HIV+ Documentary Explores Alarming Infection Rate among Black Females

Despite being born in Ethiopia and the pedigree of undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, Mehret Mandefro followed a surprising calling to work among the poor in the South Bronx. The young physician wanted to find an explanation for the Center for Disease Control's statistics which revealed that African-American women account for 68% of new HIV infections among females when they're only about 7% of that demographic.

What factors could possibly explain the skyrocketing AIDS rate? Was it simply a case of education alone, or could some social factors be responsible as well? Immersing herself in inner-city culture, and interviewing her patients and their loved ones at length, Dr. Mandefro made several surprising discoveries, particularly that power, domination and control appear to play a crucial role in the transmission of the virus.

For instance, she learned that many of the AIDS victims under her care were well aware of the dangers of unprotected sex, yet they still succumbed to pressure of men, usually older, to mate without condoms. An added complication, she discovered, is the high incarceration of black males, about 11% of them between 20 and 39.

After all, prison is a place where homosexuality and rape are commonplace, therefore many inmates re-enter society already HIV+. Thus, Dr. Mandefro draws the conclusion that ex-cons are the biggest cause of the spread of AIDS in the African-American community.

Besides making these general observations, All of Us offers an intimate look into the lives of three people: Dr. Mandefro, herself, and a couple of her AIDS patients. By allowing the camera to follow them around, Tara and Chevelle put a face on HIV and offer the uninformed an opportunity to see what living with the disease is like day-to-day.

Unfortunately, one of them died before the release of the movie, but I dare not spoil which one doesn't make it. This poignant picture periodically zooms in on Mehret's personal life after hours, too, intimate interludes that show the otherwise stoic doctor's vulnerable side. Three cheers to director Emily Apt for making such a sobering, informative and emotionally-engaging full-length feature debut.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Pureland Pictures

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