Comedian/Actor Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) is no stranger to controversy, and his new movie, Grimsby, is offensive on many levels, say critics who've seen it. But, leaked information suggests he originally planned to go even further in his effort to push the envelope.
According to U.K.'s The Telegraph, rumors from the set of Grimbsy (seemingly confirmed by pre-production emails) indicate the film was supposed to feature characters based on Queen Elizabeth and Pope Francis. The Sun claims a scene was filmed where the Queen is splattered by the blood of a child and becomes HIV-positive.
“The scene with the Queen is bleak," a source allegedly told The Sun. "It’s more gruesome than anything he has done before.”
Another scene reportedly involved the non-sexual transmission of HIV between the Queen and the Pope. The Sun also reported that one of the leaked emails revealed in the Sony Pictures hack, which the paper accessed via WikiLeaks, made references to a Queen stunt double.
In the end though, it seems filmmakers decided invoking British royalty and denigrating a religious icon wouldn't garner enough laughs and those characters were cut from the film. However, they clearly didn't think portraying a child getting shot and furthering HIV stigma — in the name of comedy — was in poor taste.
The scene in question did make it into the final version of Grimsby, which premiered last week in London. But instead of the Queen and the Pope it features stand-ins for Donald Trump and Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. As in the earlier version, the Radcliffe character becomes HIV-positive after a child’s blood enters his mouth, which contains open sores. Trump is then infected with Radcliffe’s blood, leading to news reports (in the movie) that proclaim, “Donald Trump has AIDS.”
Not only is it offensive to make HIV into a joke, say activits, but the movie furthers misinformation about HIV and contributes to the stigma people living with the virus face.
As Plus reported after Who's the Boss star Danny Pintauro came out as HIV-positive, getting HIV via oral contact is extremely rare.
“HIV can only be passed on by blood if it enters an open-wound, or in significant amounts, a mucus membrane,” a spokesperson for the National AIDS Trust told the Daily Mail. The organization further pointed out that children who are living with HIV would be on treatment and likely virally supressed. “Even then it is extremely unlikely, alongside the fact that any child living with HIV in the U.K. would almost definitely be on HIV treatment and therefore unable to pass the virus on.”
As Jeremiah Johnson reported in Plus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a systematic review of existing research to estimate the per act risk of getting HIV through a range of sexual behaviors, including oral sex, in 2014. While the CDC opted not to give a numerical estimate, they concluded that the risk of getting HIV from performing oral sex is extremely low, "citing a 10-year Spanish study of heterosexual couples with opposite HIV statuses where no new infections occurred after nearly 9,000 instances of giving head."
The other issue is the way this film confuses HIV with AIDS. They are not the same thing. AIDS is its own diagnosis, and it is made only when someone living with HIV develops particular conditions. In the U.S., the majority of people living with HIV will never develop AIDS because proper treatment and regular medical care keeps their immune system strong enough to prevent AIDS (which is called stage three HIV in many medical circles).
Of course, while Grimbsy does nothing to dispell the stigmatizing HIV myths it furthers, it does at least include a note that says that Daniel Radcliffe and Donald Trump were not involved with the making of the film and are not HIV-positive. Most likely, Cohen's lawyers insisted on that much.