In early nineties Paris, a group of people united against a disease that tore through their community.
They viewed AIDS and the struggle to access treatment for it, as a war. Part of the global movement ACT UP, they united to educate and spread the movement across the world to fight AIDS when their governments wouldn’t, and together they built a community to approach the disease in a positive and combative manner, to fight for survival against elitist political indifference, pharmaceutical greed and lack of public awareness. Film director Robin Campillo was part of ACT UP Paris, and his new film 120 Beats per Minute tells their story with magnificent, heart exploding youthful energy and euphoric beauty. Their campaigns were bright, vivid explosions of political action in the streets with roots in the year 1981, as AIDS spread across the world:
In June 1981, the first cases of AIDS were reported in Los Angeles. By the end of the year, 270 cases had been reported and by the end of 1985, the disease catapulted into mainstream consciousness through the death of Hollywood icon Rock Hudson. Two years later in 1987, the first antiretroviral drug was approved in America to be used as a treatment for AIDS. It was incredibly expensive and often prompted terrible side effects. In March 1987, the ACT UP movement began on the streets of New York to unite in non-violent action to eradicate AIDS and to end the system of politics that discriminated against the communities that despite needing treatment were not given anything, and the campaign then spread across the world. But by the end of the year, over a hundred thousand AIDS cases had been reported globally. In March 1988, ACT UP New York protested on Wall Street and 100 people were arrested. Later in the year, across the Atlantic despite the ongoing crisis, Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28– a law that stated local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality.” Back in the US, ACT UP gained more momentum with the largest protest in history since the Vietnam War, finally gaining traction when the Food & Drug Administration announced new regulations to speed up drug approvals. In 1989, the movement became even more visible when ACT UP London catapulted condoms over the walls of Pentonville prison to protest the government ban on condoms in prison. By then the number of AIDS cases reported in the US alone had reached 100,000 and by 1991, 10 million people across the world were HIV positive and AIDS was killing more men aged 24-44 than any other condition. Two vital and incredibly visible protests caught the world’s attention in ’92 and ’93 respectively: ACT UP held political funeral in Washington DC, covering the White House lawn with ashes; and in Paris, the movement wrapped a gigantic pink condom over the iconic obelisk on Place de Concorde, the largest square in the French capital – eventually breaking through to capture the attention of the world’s media. 120 BPM tells the journey of the people of ACT UP Paris, up to that pivotal moment, of their love, life and friendship. It’s an urgent, sensual love story against a backdrop of corruption, discrimination and downright political prejudice that tells a vitally relevant narrative. Collective memories are short, and a time when huge numbers of people were dying because of AIDS in this country seems far off - and not a political issue despite only happening a couple of decades ago. Despite huge progress in treatments and education programmes, nowadays there are 36 million people living with HIV worldwide. Half of these people do not have access to treatment and discrimination continues. You can watch 120 BPM at the Showroom now.