United in Anger: A History of ACT UP


On March 24, 1987, ACT UP held its first demonstration on Wall Street, 24 years before the tents in Zuccotti Park went up and during an era when many Americans favored quarantining those with AIDS. Chief among their demands: faster government approval of drugs at more affordable prices that could combat the ravaging effects of the disease. Jim Hubbard’s impassioned documentary, like David France’s How to Survive a Plague, which will be released in September, combines archival footage from the activist group’s most vital years (roughly up through the mid ’90s) with more recent reflections by ACT UP veterans, who recall the collective as a “cauldron of political anger, flirting, and cruising.” (The latter sit-down interviews are culled from the ACT UP Oral History Project, which Hubbard started a decade ago with the film’s producer, writer Sarah Schulman.) This time-toggling chronicle benefits from its impressively articulate talking heads, looking back not just on the coalition’s most infamous guerrilla protests, like the die-in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1989 and the Ashes Action of 1992, but also on the members’ much-younger selves. Crucially, the variety of interviewees in Hubbard’s doc—men and women of different races and classes—underscores just how diverse ACT UP was in its heyday. Yet, as Ron Goldberg, speaking on behalf of the many ACT UP members “who came from privilege,” notes, gay white middle-class men weren’t used to being scorned or denied—a “sense of entitlement that really proved useful for the group.” Melissa Anderson

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