120 BPM is a beautiful film. It hovers somewhere between documentation, celebration and an honest depiction of the frustration and tragedy of AIDS.
The film is set in the nineties with beautiful dated aspects, but these only help bring to light how recently information about the epidemic and prevention became “important” to the state and heteronormative society.
Though the film is steeped in anger the tone is not traumatic. The construction and continuation of community through tragedy honestly depicts the reality (for some) who live with terminal illness. As riots turn into raves which turn to dust which turn to microbes, AIDS is always present, but not always conquering.
This film tackled the stigma surrounding AIDS and homosexuality, then and now. The activist group ACT UP, who the film is centred around, are a non-violent group doing all they can to raise awareness, including storming a pharmaceutical company and attempting to deliver safe sex lessons at a high school. This was an inspirational look at direct action and how affective we can be. That said, the bravery of the activists and the anger at the powers against them is tangible.
Nowadays AIDS seems distant. We all know someone who had cancer, we don’t all know someone who had AIDS. It is now found most often in sub-Saharan Africa, but this distance seems to have meant that consciousness has walked out of our past as well as our present. Once again AIDS is found within society’s less privileged communities. Perhaps the reason why we don’t seem to talk about AIDS enough is not that it is no longer prevalent, or relevant, but that we wish it was. Homophobia, both direct and structural or inadvertent, is rife. We cannot forget our history, no matter how awkward or frustrating or sad. We cannot pretend that oppression happened nor that it continues to this day.