How to Survive a Plague (2012)

9.0 Overall Score

A view of how the modern protest has evolved, honoring the dead, quality footage

Tough subject

Movie Info

Movie Name:  How to Survive a Plague

Studio:  Mongrel Media

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  January 22, 2012

MPAA Rating:  Unrated


An ’80s protest of the FDA

A.I.D.S. is a rapidly growing and spreading problem in America.  Those infected with the disease are at odds with the FDA on getting medicine and test done in a quicker pace due to the powerful attacks of the disease.  The process to change the FDA’s practices and the people struggling to make change in society and in turn changing the way protests exist.

Directed by David France, How to Survive a Plague was a documentary film chronicling the efforts of ACT UP and TAG in the early days of A.I.D.S. research through a big breakthrough in medicine.  The film won numerous awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (losing to Searching for Sugarman).


A victim of A.I.D.S.

How to Survive a Plague is interesting in that it is full of very clear, clean video…something rare for a documentary from this period of time.  The movie looks fantastic and shows the people who fought and died as both a message of how to keep fighting and as an honor to those who fought.

The clarity of the film is also a mark of how the people involved in the protests knew what they were doing was important, needed to be documented, and that it wasn’t disorganized.  ACT UP and later TAG both knew that they were not only advocates but a brand and had to act in that way…companies can beat companies.  This branding and style of protests has been evolved from protests of the ’60s and ’70s and now is being used in protests like Occupy Wall Street today.


…and now Jesse Helms’ house is a condom…

The subject is still a tough one…If medicine is possibly around to save a person who is terminal, should the patient have the right to test it regardless of safety?  That is the essential question, and that is a question with every disease.  As seen here, that issue is compounded by the difficulty of homosexuality and how it is viewed by the public.  When gays and lesbians have people (including senators in the government like Jesse Helms) outwardly condemning and demonizing them, it becomes more and more difficult and necessary to take desperate measures.

How to Survive a Plague is a good film though not one of those films that you enjoy watching.  The movie shows what it means to fight and how the modern protest has evolved.  I don’t always agree with the methods in the film, but I do think that it is often necessary to challenge the norms when society refuses to listen.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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