The biography and drama film Dallas Buyers Club which was released in 2013 is perhaps one of the most controversial movies ever released about HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection and its more severe counterpart AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). When the film was released, lot of people watched it. This is because it talked about one of the most serious issues in the medical and healthcare industry that no one really seems to care about ad that is AIDS activism. The objective of this paper is to present a critical and contextual review of the movie Dallas Buyers Club focusing on questions like what part of the general population the movie is intended for, the ideas values, and beliefs that were present in the movie, whose population’s interests got served when the movie was published, the type of influence that it had on the audience, the stereotypes that could be seen in the movie, among other things.
Dallas Buyers Club revolves around the story of Ron Woodroof who was portrayed by Matthew McConaughey in the movie. Basically, the movie was Ron’s biography only that it was released as a movie. The story was set in 1985 in Dallas, United States, when Ron was working as an electrician and a hustler. He also worked around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication and other healthcare-related things that they needed after he discovered that he himself was diagnosed with the disease .
Back at the time, that is 1985, AIDS is one of the most under-researched diseases. Society back then did not have a wide and thorough understanding of HIV infection or AIDS as it does now. In fact, even after several waves of technological revolution and breakthroughs in the healthcare and medical industry, as well as in the medical and healthcare research community, the real cure for this deadly and highly infectious disease is still yet to be discovered. At best, what society only managed to uncover were the most basic principles about how the disease gets transmitted, how it attacks the body, and how it eventually leads to the death of the diagnosed patients.
Because the disease was not yet understood at that time, people who had AIDS were highly stigmatized and at some point, even discriminated . In an attempt to survive, and also, to help his co-patients who had been diagnosed with the disease as well to survive, he became a part of the experimental AIDS treatment movement. Under which, his role was to smuggle pharmaceutical drugs that were not yet approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into the state of Texas. As mentioned earlier, AIDS at that time was one of the highly-misunderstood diseases. In fact, there were not a lot of medical and healthcare institutions that cater to the needs of patients diagnosed with the condition.
FDA approved drugs that have been tested to treat the disease were also pretty much nonexistent. So, instead of waiting for the infection to spread fast inside their body, Ron decided that he would rather die as an AIDS treatment movement activist rather than wait for the government and some other concerned non-government organization to make the first move, if any. Ron did not just think of himself when he was smuggling non-FDA approved pharmaceutical products into Texas. Although his primary intention as to treat his symptoms (i.e. not the disease itself but the symptoms), he also distributed large quantities of such products to his co-patients who had been diagnosed with the disease as well. It was at that point that the famed Dallas Buyers Club got established. It did not take long for the Food and Drug Administration to discover that such a club exists.
The FDA strongly opposed the movement citing that the inherent risks of using non-approved pharmaceutical products may prove to be counterproductive to their effort of eventually treating their symptoms and eventually the disease itself; and that smuggling violates the established laws in the country related to trade and commerce. The drama in the film centers on the members of the Dallas Buyers Club’s struggle for their own survival. It is important to note that AIDS is a non-treatable condition mainly because no drug or any medical treatment can counter the disease’s progression.
That means that the deterioration of the patient’s condition is not a matter of if but when—because it would surely happen. Ron and his co-patients were aware of this truth and that is basically what fuelled them to establish the highly opposed Dallas Buyers Club. Their helplessness also helped create the drama in the film. For example, the FDA, appeared to be the villain in the story because it was making serious efforts to oppose the Dallas Buyers Club and disrupt its operations; plus it was not really making any real efforts to initiate or at least support the existing drug and medical treatment studies for AIDS at that tie.
Also, the purpose of focusing on the struggles and challenges that the pioneering members of the AIDS treatment movement (i.e. the Dallas Buyers Club) was not just to romanticize their efforts or to increase the overall level of drama in the film; rather it was to show the real hardships that Ron and everyone who was diagnosed with the disease went through just so they could get decent medical treatment if one would even call what they received as treatment.
Some of the ideas introduced in the film include the idea that the rapidly increasing rate of transmission of AIDS is something that must be taken seriously; that the lack of an internationally-recognized treatment protocol or framework for AIDS despite the fact that a lot of people have already died without even receiving decent medical attention and health care services is something to be alarmed about. It may also be safe to say that the release of the movie was an attempt to talk some sense to the policy makers and to the international community that the existing issues about the spread of HIV infection is something that governments must start to treat more seriously. If asked with the question whose voice receives the highest level of attention, that would be the people who have already died of AIDS struggling just so they can receive less than decent forms of medical attention and healthcare services. Just looking at the efforts of and hardships that people like Ron went through would show that there is something wrong with the healthcare system particularly in the area of management of patients diagnosed with AIDS.
The movie serves the interests of everyone and not just that of the people diagnosed with the disease. Sooner rather than later, the number of people with AIDS would balloon—mainly as a result of the government’s lack of focus and direction in preventing its spread, to the point that everyone would already be so wary and cautious about being involved in an intimate relationship with another person. This movie serves the interest of everyone because its primary aim was to serve as a wakeup call to the people, the government and the policymakers that they must do something to hasten the production of results in AIDS-related researches so that a real cure for the disease would finally be available, or if that is really a feat that is impossible to overcome, to dramatically decrease, if not completely stop, the spread of the infection.
When asked with the question how might the audiences (i.e. everyone) be influenced, the most accurate answer would be it depends. It depends on what they saw in the movie; whether they just saw the movie as an entertaining film about someone’s struggle, or as a movie that offers real world-applicable insights about a disease that have already destroyed and actually taken the lives of a lot of people. Ideally of course, the audiences should see the movie not just as a piece of entertainment but rather as a wakeup call so that they may be encouraged and motivated to participate in existing programs meant to help the AIDS treatment movement, or preferably to initiate new ones.
Some of the existing myths about HIV and AIDS during the setting of the film include the idea that HIV is a highly infectious disease that can be transmitted even via the most simple of human interactions such as touching the skin of or kissing the lips of an infected person, without any actual sexual intercourse . The truth about AIDs is that it may only be transmitted to another person by means of sexual intercourse, or exposure of a non-infected person’s open wound to the blood of another person who has been diagnosed with the condition . In another work published by Minkler (2004), she discussed the different societal issues such as HIV, AIDS, violence, substance abuse, and class, gender and racial issues in the U.S. that impact health, emphasizing the importance of grassroots and basic healthcare principles in addressing community health issues such as HIV and AIDS.
There was also this belief that AIDS only affect individuals who belong to the third gender—the homosexuals . This certainly is not true because everyone faces a certain level of risk that they will be infected with the disease. As mentioned earlier, AIDS was one of the least understood diseases in the past, or at least during the setting of the film. Ironically, it is one of the most easily transmitted (i.e. via sexual intercourse, blood infection, etc.) and perhaps the deadliest disease present not just today but even in the past decades since it was first discovered.
All in all, AIDS infection is one of the most serious things that can happen to a person. In the case of Ron in the movie, and in fact, in the present case, AIDS’ infection rates are on a rapid increase both in developed and developing countries. Aside from the entertainment that the drama brought about by the characters’ challenging and helpless situation in the movie brings, the movie has in fact another important purpose and that is to serve as a wakeup call to the community, the government, and policy makers to take more relevant and higher impact steps to eradicate the disease by accelerating the efforts of the medical research community in finding a cure or a vaccine, or if not, putting a stop to the disease’s rapid transmission rates. The movie has so far shown how hard it is to survive once infected with the disease and that it itself should poke the viewers’ minds about the urgency and importance of the situation when it comes to treating patients diagnosed with AIDS.
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