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The Meaning in Life

The Meaning in Life

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In the upcoming HBO movie Life Support, Queen Latifah takes on a role based on a real-life HIV survivor who is described as a mother, a former addict, and an AIDS activist. Set in and filmed around Brooklyn, N.Y., director and cowriter Nelson George's story was inspired by the struggles of his family--especially his sister, Andrea Williams--and the way HIV affects their lives. But the story brings out emotions that go beyond just the virus--in the ways that you see it touching the life of almost every character, especially when it seems there isn't a spare moment in their lives that they can't escape it. As Jamie Foxx, one of the film's executive producers, points out: 'Unlike most films on HIV, it is not about dying from the virus but living with it and how the past continues to live with you. The film is overtly a story about living with HIV, but it is also about the struggle to forgive.' It's easy to see what he means as the movie begins. Latifah's Ana is at an HIV-positive women's support group. The stories that each participant shares--touching on themes of drug addiction, their men's time in prison, trust, negotiating safer sex--all set the tone for the struggles that each person, especially Ana and her family and their friends, have to deal with. When the director met Latifah he says he knew she was the perfect choice to play his sister as well as to represent all the women with HIV he'd met as he followed his sister around on her outreach work. 'Latifah embodies the spirit these women have,' he says. 'I think this is one of the first roles she's had that has allowed her to project the totality of her being. She embodies a certain strength and dignity in her work, and it seemed like it was a natural fit.' There could be good reason for that fit. Latifah says the movie hit home for her: 'I could relate to the story. I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn during my teenage years. I was very fortunate to come through that time period healthy and to change my life and get back on course. I can relate to Ana in that respect.' But the feelings of both personal evolution and, ultimately, some sadness, of course, come from the realization that the film is based on real life--people we all live with or know--and watching the characters' lives intertwine, watching how they learn that they need to rely on each other to survive and be happy. 'As I began doing more and more research for the film,' George explains, 'I realized that this story was far larger than my own family and the film I started out to make. All of the amazing women I met at these support groups--this is their story. They are part of the group that accounts for 51% of new diagnoses, and some of the locations where we shot have some of the highest rates of infection in the country. I wanted to give a voice and a face to people who appear to be just statistics--but are far more than that.'

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