“Very few movies have been made about living with it.”
Imagine a Hollywood pitch meeting where busy studio executives hear the following pitch for a prospective film: The true-life story of a Black mother who overcomes her addiction to crack and becomes a positive HIV-positive role model and AIDS activist in the African American community.
A heartwarming drama? For sure. The kind of story Hollywood is ready to tell to its cinematic audiences? No doubt … If You Believe In Heroes.
Being a hero for her Struggle in the Struggle probably didn’t cross the mind of Andrea Williams when she was Down and Out in Brooklyn, aching for another hit on her empty pipe and dealing with crying babies and the drama of A Crack Addict’s Life.
But Life Is Full of Miracles and Heroes. Williams doesn’t have to think about making a movie when she’s in the Throes of Addiction. She just has to think about surviving and Making Something Better of Herself. And reaching out. As she struggles for A Better Dream Than the Pipe, she shares that struggle and the struggle of women like her with her compassionate brother.
The compassionate brother is gripped by The Plight of His Sister and his sisters in the Black community. He’s got his act together. He’s a prominent figure in the entertainment industry. He helps turn his sister and his sister’s journey into a movie for the entire world to watch forever.
Life Support, a real-life HBO movie is based on the real-life story of a Black mother who overcomes her addiction to become a positive, HIV-positive role model and AIDS activist in the African American community.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” says the woman who inspired the story. “I’m just doing what I’m doing.”
And serving as inspiration for award-winning HBO films, along the way.
Andrea Williams has been living with HIV since 1993. She and her brother, the film’s writer-director Nelson George, were born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised by their mother Arizona. After attending Sheepshead Bay High School, Williams took classes at Brooklyn College. When she contracted HIV, she already had two daughters, Ebony and Amber. The year 1993 became a turning point for the entire family.
After the diagnosis, Williams began educating herself. Eventually, she became an activist in the struggle to live with HIV/AIDS. In 1996, she gave birth to her third daughter, Jade, born HIV-negative. For seven years, Williams volunteered as a Peer Educator, educating thousands of New Yorkers about HIV/AIDS.
“All I ever wanted to do was save lives every day,” says Williams, adding, “The biggest challenge women in my support groups have is disclosing their status to their families, to their men. They’re afraid of being rejected. Many times, they’re also facing issues of abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse. AIDS is just one of the many things they deal with.”
It was these kinds of Challenges of the Black Woman that ended up being a story that needed to be told by Williams’s brother, Nelson George. Life Support stars Queen Latifah as Ana, a recovering junkie who tries atoning for her seedy past by being a loving mom to her nine-year-old daughter. She also takes care of her husband, who is HIV-positive. Her AIDS outreach group, Life Support, is an integral part of Ana’s life and where she feels most at home.
The real-life Life Support for Williams is Brooklyn Plaza Medical Center, a non-profit medical facility serving over 300 residents of the New York borough.
“We see all types, young gay guys in their twenties, girls in their twenties,” she says. Naturally, many people have made the connection between the movie and its inspiration and she is often stopped by strangers on the street. “I’m okay with losing my anonymity,” says Williams when talking about her now very-public journey. “It hasn’t been a bad thing. Now they can put a face on HIV/AIDS. It’s a part of life. It’s not something to hide. It’s about being secure with yourself.”
Hollywood has been secure with Life Support, released in 2007 and also starring Tracee Ellis Ross and fellow Hero in the Struggle honoree Gloria Reuben. The film received two nominations for the 59th Prime-time Emmy Awards. Queen Latifah was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie and the film was nominated for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or Special. Queen Latifah won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television. She also won Outstanding Performance by a Female at the 14th Screen Actors Guild Awards held in 2008.
Williams has worked with Abbott Laboratories and the Magic Johnson Foundation on the I Stand With Magic Campaign. In addition, she was the National Spokesperson for The Women Living Positive Survey conducted by The Well Project, and the 2008 Grand Marshal of the Hudson Valley AIDS Walk. She’s also been the guest speaker at numerous events across the country and continues to touch the lives of the clients who she works with at her clinic.
Oh, and her kids. They’re grown and growing, and have been peer educating the world about HIV/AIDS on their own. Sounds like a heroic sequel for Andrea Williams and company.