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MOVIE REVIEW

'Why Us? Left Behind and Dying'

The documentary follows 20 inner-city teens from Pittsburgh as they explore the history and large numbers of HIV/AIDS cases in their community and culture.

September 09, 2009|Gary Goldstein

By turns frightening and fascinating, compassionate and compelling, the tough-titled documentary "Why Us? Left Behind and Dying" is an all-too-essential look at the disproportionately high rate of HIV/AIDS in black America and sub-Saharan Africa. Claudia Pryor Malis' candid, compactly informative film, showing for one week to qualify for much-deserved Oscar consideration, examines an extremely complex issue in a laudably accessible yet hard-hitting way.

Part feature film, part research project, "Why Us?" follows 20 curious, courageous inner-city teens from Pittsburgh's academically challenged Westinghouse High School as they explore the history and profusion of HIV/AIDS throughout their community and culture. These kids pose probing questions about the disease to a series of school visitors, including straights, gays, intravenous drug users, HIV-positive locals (several of whom are separately profiled as well) and doctors and scientists from America and Africa. The students also take pains to open up directly to director Malis about their own safe -- or unsafe -- sex practices and fears about HIV/AIDS. Westinghouse alumna Tamira Noble, 20, nicely serves as the film's narrator.

The intertwining explanations for the HIV/AIDS explosion among blacks -- low self-esteem, distrust of science and the healthcare system, poverty, gender inequality, trouble squaring racial and sexual identities, a history of secrecy and shame, and even a possible genetic variation -- are vividly presented here. But it's a hard look at the black church's ingrained homophobia and longtime reluctance to deal with HIV/AIDS that perhaps prove the most disturbing. As a more enlightened Baptist pastor chillingly says here of the epidemic, "This is real whether you accept it or not. You don't lead a dead man to God." Amen to that.

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'Why Us? Left Behind and Dying'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle's Grande 4-Plex, downtown Los Angeles

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