How to Survive a Misinformation Campaign
October 13, 2021 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Peter Staley, an HIV/AIDS activist who'd been featured in the documentary How to Survive a Plague [FanFare thread], was offered a small part in the (eventually-Oscar-winning) film Dallas Buyers Club. Staley agreed, but then he read the original script... [Vanity Fair]

The VF article is an excerpt from Staley's upcoming book, Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism. HIV/AIDS denialism previously on the blue; Staley previously.
posted by Halloween Jack (12 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
This blew me away. I'm so glad he called people out by name, and that he fought so forcefully on this.
posted by queensissy at 11:54 AM on October 13 [21 favorites]

JFC, that was a bad film. I was a senior statistician for the NIAID-funded (yes, that Fauci) Community Program for Clinical Research on AIDS in the early '90s, and ran research on HIV/AIDS therapies. I had to stop watching that film because it was so full of bullshit. The same kind of hysterical anti-establishmentarianism that fueled the HIV-denialism is now fueling the COVID-denialism on the right.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:58 AM on October 13 [31 favorites]

This was an exhilarating read. I worked with Peter briefly on an activism-related project a few years ago, and the man is both a force, but also just very kind and personable. I could picture him in my mind's eye while reading this, just going after Vallé, with ruthless but charming persistence.

(I have not seen the movie and don't plan to. It just seemed very mawkish.)
posted by lunasol at 12:47 PM on October 13 [10 favorites]

Very nice story. It is indeed the same sort of denialism that's stopping us from recovery... the sort that exists in the reality-denying upper echelons of Florida and Texas, where political gestures matter more than people's lives, all in a play to get conservative votes.
posted by kschang at 1:06 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

Jesus Christ. The man is a goddamn hero. The sheer magnitude of what he accomplished - it's not just the film, right, it's the reviews and the thinkpieces and the clutched pearl articles about Leto's character and the press junkets and sound bytes... Scrubbed. Oh, it's not perfect, and he's not satisfied, but if the pandemic has taught us anything it's shown us that an intervention like this is literally priceless in saving lives. This shit is a hydra and he stamped on all the heads. I hope someone is making sure he never pays a cent for any of his vices ranging from drinks to donuts - I would pay that money myself.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 2:00 PM on October 13 [27 favorites]

It was such a bad movie that I kept watching just to see how much else they'd get wrong. I like to pretend it doesn't exist, personally. Glad Staley got to see the whole script before agreeing -- I can't imagine how he'd feel if he hadn't.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:15 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]

Peter Staley is a treasure. This was an excellent article.

I'm going to pick a nit with an aside near the end though:

(Leto’s character, by the time shooting started, had changed from a cross-dressing man to a trans woman; that the trans community probably didn’t need another cisgender male actor playing this part is another discussion.)

The issue is not that the actor is cis. To include this suggests that it is, and tends to start all sorts of irrelevant, deraily arguments about whether cis people can play trans roles, whether anyone can actually act, or only represent themselves, etc. A quick look at any of the mefi threads about films where this sort of casting choice is made will confirm that this is the failure mode for those discussions. And it's an irrelevant distraction.

The issue is that they cast a man to play a trans woman. That sends the message that trans women are, ultimately, men. Maybe men in dresses, but still men. This problem would still exist if you cast a trans man (with an additional helping if invalidating the trans man's identity to an extent).

Cast a woman to play a trans woman. Don't care if it's a cis woman - in stone ways that's actually more affirming. It indicates that trans women are, ultimately, women.

The issue is that they cast a male actor to play a trans woman. That's it.

Everything else in this article is basically solid. Shocking that Womack wasn't thrown off the project, but I don't pretend to understand how Hollywood works.
posted by Dysk at 2:40 PM on October 13 [38 favorites]

This was a really interesting article, thanks for posting it.
posted by medusa at 4:33 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

Dysk, by the time the movie was heading into production, she would have already been contracted to write the script, and paid at least some of her full contract (probably a lrage chunk of her fee would be paid upon the first day of shooting). In addition, with only weeks until the shoot date, and lots of money already out the door in preproduction, there was very little chance a new writer would be hired, particularly when there was another writer on board as well as the director. It does sound, on some level, that she *was* thrown off the movie, in that the other writer did all of the work in the final days -- but that wouldn't affect either payment or credit.

In terms of credit, the writers guild ultimately determines who gets credit for a script. They will literally count words in one draft versus another draft to determine who deserves credit. The final draft of this movie will still largely have her work, so she was not ever going to have her credit removed.
posted by lewedswiver at 6:32 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]

It does sound, on some level, that she *was* thrown off the movie, in that the other writer did all of the work in the final days -- but that wouldn't affect either payment or credit.

Well yes and no, if she was off doing interviews on the PR tour for release...
posted by Dysk at 11:48 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

This story is a reminder that sometimes speaking up works. It's been easy for me to learn the lesson that it never does, living through the W years and the Trump years, and the constant doubling-down on bad decisions that people in charge tend to do. Change so rarely happens, and assuming good intentions on the part of wrong-doers so rarely pays off that I tend to lose hope.

But speaking up, even when it's hard, is still always the right thing. I like how this story hinged on being savvy about who to target and how. We're all going to have to learn these lessons to fight COVID denialism. Thanks for the post.
posted by rikschell at 5:50 AM on October 14 [13 favorites]

This story is a reminder that sometimes speaking up works.

As is the broader story of AIDS activism that it's embedded in
posted by treepour at 12:36 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]

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