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This Positive Life: An Interview With Leslie and Andrea Williams

February 1, 2011

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Kellee Terrell: For the people who are watching the video right now: Andrea and Leslie, their life was portrayed in the HBO film, Life Support, which was directed and written by your brother Nelson George. When he approached you about the possibility of basing a movie off of your life experiences and addiction and HIV, and the work you do, how did you feel, initially?

Andrea Williams: It was, like, OK.

Kellee Terrell: You weren't worried that you were going to air your business?

Andrea Williams: No.

Kellee Terrell: And how did you feel?

Leslie Williams: She did everything.

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Andrea Williams: Originally, I kept him out of it, because I didn't know how he felt about it. So I wouldn't even use his name. You know, I just; I wasn't sure. I was the person who was going to be up front. I was the person who the movie was basically based on: you're going to see Andrea Williams. You don't have to see Leslie Williams, if Leslie Williams does not want to be seen.

Kellee Terrell: You said it was her show, do your thing, but how did you personally feel about having kind of your life experiences out there? People in Brooklyn were going to know it was you.

Leslie Williams: I wasn't worried, it's just that, I deal with more people in the line of work that I do, than what she does.

Andrea Williams: I'm dealing with just the same amount of people. It's just that my community was more HIV friendly.

Kellee Terrell: Right.

Leslie Williams: I'm working with people who have nothing to do with HIV.

Kellee Terrell: Where do you work?

Leslie Williams: I work in a supermarket.

Kellee Terrell: And so did people at the time know that you were positive?

Leslie Williams: Nobody knew that I was positive.

"I feel that if it's important for me to tell someone I am living with HIV, I will."

-- -Leslie Williams

Kellee Terrell: Were you afraid to disclose? Do you think that people are not as educated about HIV as they need to be?

Leslie Williams: Yes, most definitely. Because there were times at the job and I hear how some of my co-workers would talk about HIV. They had no knowledge, whatsoever. But I feel that if it's important for me to tell someone I am living with HIV, I will.

Kellee Terrell: So let's go back to the movie.

Andrea, I thought your scenes were great. How did you feel about all the attention? Was it something that you were prepared for?

Andrea Williams: Not really. I like to be behind the scenes. I don't like to be the out-front, to be the spokesperson for life. But it put me in the forefront. I was able to accept it, and work with it.

Kellee Terrell: Accept what?

Andrea Williams: Being in the forefront, having to speak about HIV. But it wasn't new. I had been doing it all along, but not in such a large arena.

Kellee Terrell: I remember the first time you and I had met; we had met at BAM. At the time I worked for another publication. And I just remember you were comfortable, but I could tell maybe you were a little, like, "This is a lot of people up in here."

"There are so many things that you can learn from the movie; it's so many subjects that it touches. It's not just HIV."

-- Andrea Williams

Andrea Williams: But then it just got bigger and bigger. Now colleges are using the film for their social work classes, community health worker classes and all different classes to educate their students. And I'm glad, because that's what it was made for -- as an education piece, not just to sit in HBO's vault. It's so many things that you can learn from the movie; it's so many subjects that it touches. It's not just HIV.

Kellee Terrell: Well, it's going to have a legacy. It talks about so much. I think some of the best scenes weren't -- even though Queen Latifah was amazing and won a Golden Globe and a SAG award, which was fabulous . . .

Andrea Williams: And she never won those before.

Kellee Terrell: Yes. And it was based off of you!

Andrea Williams: That's right.

Kellee Terrell: But I thought the most powerful scenes were the ones with the support groups. They feel the less scripted.

Andrea Williams: Well, they weren't scripted. They weren't scripted. And those are real women who were living with HIV, who were in my support group; and they're my support system, my friends.

Kellee Terrell: And so what have people said to you over the years about the movie, thanking you about the impact? Is there anything that kind of stands out to you the most?

Andrea Williams: I see people all the time. And they'll say, "I showed the movie to my mother," or, "I was able to talk to my kids about it, and I showed them the movie." And it's opened up conversations for families, to sit down and be able to talk about HIV and its impact on people's lives.

I recently got an e-mail from somebody, a young guy, about 17; he said that it made such a difference in his life. You know, he watched the movie.

Kellee Terrell: Speaking of families, I remember I interviewed you, Leslie, a few years ago, and something that you said has always stuck with me. You were talking about the fact that your father had died, your brother had died, that you were positive, your wife was positive; and you had said, "We want for HIV to stop with us. We don't want for the girls to have to deal with it. We want for it to stop with us." It was profound. I don't know if people even think that half of someone's family can be affected by one disease, especially HIV.

Andrea Williams: Generational HIV.

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