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Tyler Perry's Temptation Sentences People With HIV to a Lifetime of Stigma and Isolation

April 16, 2013

"Tyler Perry's Temptation left me emotionally pained, angry and disappointed. Mr. Perry, a brilliant film maker, missed a genuine opportunity for honest and accurate community education around HIV. Instead, Temptation perpetuated HIV sensationalism and stigma. It demonized people living with HIV as irresponsible and portrayed women who acquire HIV as an undesirable, reclusive, sub-species, destined to live out their lives in suffering," commented Waheedah Shabazz-El, a woman living with HIV.

Two weekends and $212.7 million later, Tyler Perry's film Temptation perpetuates the War on Women, fuels stigma and discrimination towards people of color and people living with HIV, and condones the belief that people living with HIV are sinners, who deserve punishment.

Positive Women's Network - USA, a national membership body of women living with HIV advocating for the rights and dignity of all women, is deeply disturbed by Perry's stigmatizing portrayal of women, people living with HIV and people of color. Instead of using his film as a moment to challenge the rampant violence against women in our society, break down the self-hatred that causes people to live in shame, and showcase powerful role models for our young girls and boys, Perry demonizes and vilifies people of color and people living with HIV -- two of the most targeted, profiled and marginalized communities in the U.S.

By perpetuating a rhetoric that raises illogical fears that HIV-positive people are inherently violent, corrupt, immoral and deviant, Perry plays into the misguided belief that people living with HIV deserve to be punished. In the U.S., HIV criminalization laws are real. They separate families and lock up people in 34 states and 2 territories. These laws are barriers, preventing people from HIV testing, accessing treatment and seeking medical care or social support. Many people living with HIV believe they do not deserve a fulfilling and dignified life. These laws do not prevent HIV transmission, they keep people from knowing their status or seeking care. His film effectively reverses the phenomenal victories of groups working to combat HIV stigma and criminalization, including the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, SERO Project and Positive Justice Project.

By creating a rhetoric that condones violence against women and blames women for their "actions," Perry dismisses the complex realities of women's lives.

Movies and messages like this reinforce judgments that are akin to a societal death penalty. Women are dying because they can't bear knowing and/or don't want anyone else to know that they may be living with HIV. Thus they may choose not to engage in care, take medication and/or disclose. 2 out of 3 women who newly test positive are Black women. Women are more likely to be diagnosed late with a dual HIV and AIDS diagnosis. In addition, Black women account for the largest share of deaths among all women living with HIV and in 2009, HIV was the 4th leading cause of death for Black women ages 25 to 44. Stigma and discrimination are largely responsible for women getting sick faster and dying sooner.

As partners, sisters, mothers, daughters, teachers and lovers living with HIV, we denounce Perry's portrayal of HIV as a punishment for bad behavior. We further denounce Perry's portrayal of HIV-positive women as unworthy of love, incapable of relationships and his portrayal of men living with HIV as sexually irresponsible predators.

Positive Women's Network -- USA calls for the responsible and respectful use of the media by filmmakers. Mr. Perry, as someone with incredible power, resources and privilege to dictate our society's culture and norms, it is your responsibility to accurately represent those who you portray. Give us a call next time you want to make a film about women and HIV.

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