It’s hard enough to get mainstream movies made and distributed (even Jennifer Aniston’s Toronto film Management is still looking for a buyer), let alone get them seen—do we even need to lament again the fact that no one wants to see anything to do with the war? So we admire the fact that a movie like All of Us will even make it into theaters. Because this documentary—about a young doctor in the South Bronx researching why heterosexual black women are being infected with H.I.V. at disproportionately high rates—may be incredibly interesting, but it’s also terribly depressing.
Emily Abt’s first film, Take It From Me, was a feature-length exploration of welfare reform, so she must be conditioned to tackling projects on topics that people would rather ignore. In All of Us, Dr. Mehret Mandefro, a Harvard-educated young doctor originally from Ethiopia, is followed by cameras as she meets with various women afflicted with H.I.V. She becomes the heart and face of the film, and as far as faces go, Ms. Abt couldn’t have found a better one: Dr. Mandefro looks more like a movie star than most movie stars, and the contrast between her and the women in her outreach program couldn’t be more stark. There’s Chevelle, who was addicted to drugs and dependent on sex with men to feed her addiction, now clean and hoping to marry her also-positive boyfriend, who is showing early signs of dementia. Then there’s the heartbreaking Tara, who was first sexually abused at the age of 5, and in addition to H.I.V. suffers from cervical cancer. Her boyfriend is still pressuring her to have sex, even after large parts of her genitalia have been hacked away in surgery. Who wants more popcorn?
Ms. Abt’s aim seems to be to show a sisterhood, but if anything she demonstrates the horrific chasm between the conditions Dr. Manderfro’s subjects have found themselves in and those of other, visible American women. (One thing seems to be universal: Dr. Mandefro, who could teeter on the edge of being just a little too perfect and well meaning, suddenly becomes all too human when she talks about her disappointment when the man she is dating hasn’t called.) Ms. Abt brings out the best in her subjects: Tara and Chevelle and their partners are fully realized, not just poster children for the cause. In the production notes, Ms. Abt said she made All of Us to “spark dialogue and social change especially among young women who I believe are on the frontlines of tremendous personal risk.” Now let’s just hope they’ll go and see it.
All of Us opens Friday at Cinema Village.