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A Bet for the Future

A Bet for the Future

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Like Paul Lekakis's efforts to promote safer sex and AIDS awareness among gay men through the power of film, Black Entertainment Television is using the medium to reach out specifically to African-Americans, who account for more than half of all new U.S. HIV infections each year. Working with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Los Angeles AIDS activist Phill Wilson, founder and executive director of the Los Angeles'based Black AIDS Institute, BET officials crafted and launched the annual Rap-It-Up/Black AIDS Short Subject Film Competition for African-American screenwriters. Ten finalists were chosen from nearly 500 submitted screenplays, and the competition culminated in the production of two short films and their premieres on BET on World AIDS Day, says Kelli Lawson, executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications for the network. The project was part of BET's larger Rap-It-Up HIV educational and safer-sex campaign, launched in 1997, which has included more than 30 public-service announcements and 21 full-length shows. Winning films Tangy's Song, which documents the true story of a 22-year-old pregnant and HIV-positive gospel singer, and Walking on Sunshine, which focuses on two sisters who put themselves at risk for HIV infection, were chosen by a panel of film and TV industry insiders, including producer Lee Daniels (Monster's Ball), actor Danny Glover (The Color Purple), director and producer Paris Barclay (NYPD Blue, ER, and The West Wing), and actress Sheryl Lee Ralph (Moesha), among others. Los Angeles'based filmmaker Tracy Taylor, 29, one of the contest winners, says she began to research HIV's impact on African-Americans when crafting her script for Walking on Sunshine and 'was blown away. I found a lot of information and statistics that I didn't know, like the number of black women who get it and how the numbers are growing, and I was like, Wait a minute! I feel as though I'm a pretty educated and informed black woman, and if people like me do not know this, how many others don't know?' Taylor's 20-minute film focuses on two African-American sisters who put themselves at risk for HIV in different ways and have to deal with the consequences of their risky behaviors. Taylor says the movie aims to educate African-American women about HIV's effect on their community and urge them to minimize their risks for infection. 'The title of the movie is a statement about how these women live their lives'they're carefree, they don't use condoms, they don't ask questions, and they think it's OK,' she explains. 'You might think you're walking on sunshine and nothing can happen to you, but the film makes you look at what might happen, to look at the heart of the risks you may be taking. It's about the possibility of this disease'the possibility of what can happen to you if you don't take the proper steps to protect yourself.' Lawson says the competition winners will be aired in 2005 on Black AIDS Awareness Day, on February 7, and in late June to coincide with National HIV Testing Day. The second annual BET short-film competition is under way.

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Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.

Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.