'The Battle of amfAR': Two Women That Changed AIDS Forever

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Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor and Dr. Mathilde Krim created amfAR, America's first AIDS research foundation.

When research scientist Dr. Mathilde Krim asked actress Elizabeth Taylor, who was devastated after the AIDS death of her best friend and colleague Rock Hudson, to join forces and create an AIDS research foundation, the Hollywood star instantly agreed. A celebrity endorsement is always good news, but no one expected Taylor to become such an unstoppable force of nature. She was the most effective tool for changing the world's mind about the disease.

“No one is safe

" a fierce Taylor said in front of Congress, expressing her support for the Ryan White CARE Act (meant to improve the medical care of AIDS patients). "It is not just a minority disease. It belongs to all of us. I ask here and now for the national leadership that is necessary to fully appropriate this bill. Because I will continue to come and ask for it again, and again

And I will not be silenced, and I will not give up, and I will not be ignored.”

Directed by Oscar-winning Rob Epstein (Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt) and Emmy-winning Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet), and executive produced by New York fashion designer and amfAR chairman Kenneth Cole, The Battle of amfAR’s sneak peak will be shown today on HBO2 at 3:45 p.m.-4:30 p.m. ET/PT), followed by its prime-time HBO debut on Monday, December 2 at 9 p.m.-9:45 p.m. (ET/PT).

Taylor and Dr. Krim formed amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) and faced battle after battle, but they kept pushing. When they finally got a reluctant Ronald Reagan to attend an amfAR dinner in honor of his friend Taylor, the film shows the President doing his best to look and sound like someone who cares.

"AIDS is surreptitiously spreading throughout our population," said Reagan, who close quoting and AIDS patient. "He said: 'While I do accept death, I think the fight for life is important, and I'm going to fight the disease with every breath I have.' Ladies and gentlemen, so must we. Thank you."

It was a terrific speech, but the Gipper, who was near the end of his second term, couldn't follow up.

"He mentioned the word 'AIDS' once and for all," said Dr. Krim. "Never since, never before. He's supposed to be a leader, also morally a leader. But Reagan was miserable."

Taylor, on the other hand, was everything Reagan wasn't.

“She was terrific," said Dr. Krim. "She was moving. The public responded to her.”

Among many achievements, amfAR's support is credited as one of the reasons The Ryan White CARE Act was enacted in 1990, and amfAR’s research was key in the discovery of antiretroviral therapy to prevent mother-to-child transmission. The legalization of syringe exchange programs and the discovery of three classes of antiretroviral drugs that allow a person to stay alive and have a life can all be traced to amfAR studies.

The purpose of The Battle of amfAR isn't to just merely rehash AIDS' horrific impact in its early years, which has already been covered by in-depth films like We Were Here. Instead, the film is an eloquent effort to remember two women whose selfless devotion to helping others gave voice to people not even doctors wanted to touch. Watching it today, World AIDS Day, will be a great reminder of what they did to save lives, but also a reminder that, even though things are better, the AIDS battle is far from over.


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