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Thoughts on United In Anger: A History of ACT UP

Hey I’m Jordan C, I’m a 17 year-old girl living in Kingston, Ontario Canada. I’m working for Reelout over the summer and was asked to watch the documentary “United in Anger: A History of ACT UP” and share my thoughts candidly.  After having watched this I feel very disgusted with America. I feel very disappointed in the amount of hatred that was laid upon those that were suffering from HIV/AIDS. I feel mad that these people were blamed, victimized, and abused over something that was out of their control. I wish I could have told Ronald Reagan how worthless he is. I wish I could have walked and protested with ACT UP because in my eyes they were fighting for basic rights. 

ACT UP was an organization for the victims of AIDS in New York seeking medical treatment but being denied and out-casted. ACT UP began March 12, 1987 and they became the “Aids Coalition To Unleash Power.” ACT UP was one of the first groups to use direct action and solve its own problems. ACT UP along with all of those of which affected by AIDS were out-casted and discriminated against, denied medicine/housing/benefits needed to live, and finally forced to picket, protest and revolt in order to get their message across. All the while the people dying were the ones who had to fight for themselves. ACT UP was trying to fix the bigger problem which was the lack of healthcare in America.

Still from United in Anger Producers S. Schulman & J. Hubbard. Directed by JIm Hubbard.


Between 1981-1987 over 40,000 people died of AIDS in the United States. Ronald Reagan was president at the time when AIDS first came out and started spreading. He refused to even use the term AIDS. He helped paint the picture that those of which had AIDS were monstrous people that needed to be labelled for public viewing. For a long period of time information the government had collected on AIDS was not being given to the public. There was a time when the government questioned whether they should label people with AIDS using tattoos. Kind of reminds you of Hitler with those patches eh? On June 28 1987 during the Lesbian Gay Pride March ACT UP float responded to threats of quarantining people with AIDS.

Still from United in Anger Producers S. Schulman & J. Hubbard. Directed by JIm Hubbard.


The date was October 11 1988 the goal was to seize control of the Food and Drug Administration. ACT UP demanded that drug’s being manufactured/tested for the use of AIDS patients be done quicker and more efficiently. ACT UP wanted to feel as though the scientists making the drugs actually cared about these people that were suffering. This first national demonstration forced the Food and Drug Administration to approve and release drugs faster than before. March 1989 ACT UP went to City Hall and demanded both benefits and housing for people with AIDS and didn’t have a home. ACT UP made it apparent at City Hall that they expected Respect, Healthcare and a legitimate attitude change towards the AIDS community.

Still from United in Anger Producers S. Schulman & J. Hubbard. Directed by JIm Hubbard.


Many people involved in ACT UP feel that if they hadn’t been arrested fighting for the cause we wouldn’t be where we are today with AIDS medicine. Others feel as though the AIDS epidemic showed us how many problems we have in our society compared to the problem of AIDS itself.
These people fought the government, the people around them, the image that was painted of people with AIDS. Most of the time being radical was the only way to get the governments attention. ACT UP started using campaign type protesting which in simple terms means they hit em’ with all they had.  In pretty much any interview you watch related to ACT UP activists you can see that from 1981- 2007 it was a battle for them. But through it all, these people pledge that being a part of ACT UP was the best time of their lives.

January 23 1991 was the “Day of Desperation.” Six days after the first Gulf war began ACT UP demanded money for AIDS not war. To continue to get their message out April 25, 1995 they protested City Services and blocked the Midnight Tunnel. 1996 HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy) the cocktail became available, revolutionizing treatment and extending the lives of people with AIDS who had access to the drugs. March 24, 1997 ACT UP celebrated its 10th anniversary by demanding lower prices for the AIDS cocktail. March 29, 2007 ACT UP celebrates its 20th anniversary by protesting and demanding Healthcare for all.

Still from United in Anger Producers S. Schulman & J. Hubbard. Directed by JIm Hubbard.


In conclusion ACT UP has done it all when it comes to picketing, protesting, fighting and winning. ACT UP is a true example of struggling for (26) years and finally coming out completely victorious. The battle for Healthcare still continues but back then it was more an issue of the people being discriminated against and turned away. Without all the work ACT UP did to get medicine for everyone America would not be the same. ACT UP was a group of abused, discriminated against, human beings affected by the AIDS virus who fought for their rights to medicine and respect from the public.

United in Anger: A History of ACT UP is being distributed internationally by The Film Collaborative.

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About Reelout

We host an 11-day queer film and video festival in Kingston, Canada in January/February each year!

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