By: Al Gentile/TRT Reporter—
Amir Dixon is on a mission to bring art, advocacy, and awareness together.
A writer, cinematographer, and activist, Dixon has launched his new firm Amir Now Incorporated (ANI), whose mission is to work with social welfare organizations to create effective and poignant narratives around their work.
His first film, “GENZero,” brings together several people living with HIV/AIDS in different capacities to tell their stories.
“The film is a narrative piece to engage constituents across the community to teach people how to talk back and engage on their own about HIV,” he said. “I wanted to be sure that every viewer was able to find their own story within the narrative. Our value proposition is understanding [how] HIV affects all of our communities in different ways.”
The documentary features people from a wide array of backgrounds. Monica James, a trans person of color who works extensively advocating for LGBTQ and incarcerated people, was featured in the film. Raymond Rodriguez, a Latinx gay man, was also highlighted, alongside public figures such as Carl Sciortino, a former state representative and the executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.
The diversity of perspective featured in the film was intentional, according to Dixon.
“We did that to show the intersectionality of our experiences,” he said. “I wanted to be sure that every viewer was able to find their own story within the narrative.”
Dixon said he sees a central narrative surrounding LGBTQ issues that is not reflective of everyone in the community. In many ways, he added, the stories of people of color especially are told not by them, but by other groups.
This, according to Dixon, leads to certain populations feeling separate from the larger community. ANI is out to change that.
“If we’re talking about homeless queer youth, queer trans youth of color period, it’s different when they’re telling their own stories,” he said. “I think it’s about how we’re telling our own stories and finding our own voices.”
Having lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s, James Darcangelo spoke about his mother’s suffering.
“I was really trying to convey how far things have come,” he said. “Things were much different—those were the days [when] people would become HIV positive, and they’d be dead six months later. I wanted to talk historically [about] what it was like, and how very scary it truly was, because for some people it is still that scary.”
Darcangelo’s mother suffered from HIV during a time when stigma was rampant. Often, people found themselves receding away from society because, at the time, much about HIV/AIDS—and how to survive—were still unknown.
“Participating in things where one publicly talks about their HIV status, and talks about being HIV positive, I think it really helps to stomp out stigma,” Darcangelo said. “I’ve been a big advocate [for] people speaking out publicly and coming out with whatever is going on in their lives and being stigmatized.”
Participating in projects such as Dixon’s, Darcangelo said, can help bring a sense of history and context to the current struggles that people are facing.
“Just walking down the street I see addicted people who are HIV positive, and can just waste away easily,” he said. “A lot of times people don’t always remember, particularly the youth who didn’t live through it.”
Darcangelo himself found out he had contracted HIV in the summer of 1990 when he was 19 years old. He found himself dealing with the stigma and hopelessness.
Darcangelo also had to face treatment practices that had not yet matured including cocktails of prescription that could have severe adverse side effects.
“Sometimes the meds killed people back then,” he said.
And yet through it all, Darcangelo found the strength to continue on living. He is a registered nurse and advocates for people living with HIV/AIDS.
While making strides in the last few decades, HIV/AIDS is still a prevalent health epidemic in Massachusetts. According to AIDSVu, an organization that tracks HIV/AIDS cases around the country, more than 19,000 people were living with HIV in Massachusetts in 2014.
AIDSVu reported the rate of latinx women and men living with HIV in the state is 10.3 and 3.9 times that of their white counterparts, respectively. Also, a 2015 AIDSVu study shows among males, male-to-male sexual contact comprised 77.8 percent of new cases of HIV, while 8.7 percent were attributed to intravenous drug use among males.
Behind the Camera
As with all efforts to build a better world for LGBTQ people, Dixon can’t do it alone. That’s where Matthew Hamer comes in.
ANI’s director of photography, Hamer, who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they, them and their, said their inspiration to work with Dixon comes from a desire to offer the public educational opportunities they never had. Coming from a small—and largely white—central Massachusetts town, Hamer found discussing issues around racial, economic, and social justice were often met with skepticism and bias.
This, Hamer said, is where media can make an impact.
“If you try to talk to white people about racial and economic justice issues, they for the most part already have inherent biases,” Hamer said. “Media can do two things depending on what you need it to do.”
Hamer said media has the ability to dehumanize an issue in a positive way. Being able to display facts as they are—without any regard to bias or consideration of background—is a powerful way media can bring important issues to light.
They said media can put a human face on an issue and elicit emotional responses that break through inherent racial or economic biases.
“[Media] really helps to humanize those issues that some people would rather just not think about or just assume is the fault of people,” they said.
Hamer said they were inspired to work with ANI in part because of how resources in the film industry are used often for incredible personal gain, either through profit or political power.
According to Hamer, their participation in ANI is a way to both use the important resources available to them for good and to hopefully inspire other people in the film industry to work on projects surrounding social justice issues.
“I work with a lot of people who make a lot of money in filmmaking and are very talented, and as a result of being very talented and being very successful they make a lot of money for not doing a lot of work, which is the dream,” they said. “I feel like so many of those people could be easily convinced [about] how much good they could do by just volunteering some of their time or resources to helping people-of-color-led production companies that do mission-focused work like Amir.”
Expanding ANI’s reach
Dixon said he and his team are going to be engaging in screenings and public forums with “GENZero” around Massachusetts.
The work of ANI, Dixon said, is continually growing. He hopes to bring more artists together to use their craft for good.
One project in the works is meant to feature gay black men, coming from communities severely impacted by HIV, talking about how they use Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (https://goo.gl/TgeJS2; PrEP) to prevent HIV transmission.
“We’ll be getting the stories from black gay men from the 10 cities and communities at highest impact for HIV, and asking them how they’re using PREP to fight HIV,” he said.
Another project will be looking to shed light on youth homelessness.
Dixon said he is also searching for artists of color who use art to empower communities.
“If you are a filmmaker talking about youth homelessness, you’ll be a part of that campaign that we’re launching in February,” he said.
As ANI makes content exclusively for social welfare organizations, Dixon said the best way to support the firm is by engaging and sharing their content.
“Add us on social [media], subscribe online,” he added. “We’re going to be doing events, pop ups, screenings. And if you are an artist and want to collaborate, let’s do it.”