HBO’s “The Normal Heart” takes on AIDS epidemic

HBO films will release their production of The Normal Heart, based on the play by Larry Kramer. The adaptation by Ryan Murphy features such big name actors as Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo and centers around the 1980s AIDS epidemic and the ensuing rise of gay activism.

The Normal Heart will make its HBO debut on May 25. (Credit: Swide)

The Normal Heart will make its HBO debut on May 25. (Credit: Swide)

Many are excited about the film, while others are concerned that The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer casts the homosexual community in a bad light. Preserving the stories and the important figures of the gay rights movement is a vital area of ongoing research. So where does the HBO adaptation of Kramer’s play fit in?

Behind the scenes of The Normal Heart

Originally written about 30 years ago, the play The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer was first performed in 1985 and had a revival in 2011. According to “The Emotional journey to ‘The Normal Heart,’” the May 7, 2014 cover story for Entertainment Weekly, it was “one of the first literary works to tackle the AIDS crisis and boldly criticize the lack of government ­support to fight the disease.”

Ryan Murphy, co-creator of “Glee,” bought the rights to the play in 2009. His passion project makes its debut as one of HBO films on May 25 starring Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo. The story focuses on a semi-autobiographical take on Kramer, played by Ruffalo who “launches an anger-fueled crusade to alert the world to the growing epidemic” that would become known as the AIDS epidemic. 

Simplifying a historical event

Drawing attention to the gay rights movement and the AIDS epidemic are good things, right? Of course, but some in the gay community are concerned about Larry Kramer’s particular hardline approach, as exemplified in The Normal Heart. The blog Indiewire posted Charles O’Malley’s concerns about the HBO films’ take on The Normal Heart in “Why I’m Not Excited For ‘The Normal Heart,’ and It Troubles Me To The Core That Many Are” on May 7, 2014. O’Malley said, “What infuriates me about this play is its brazen sex negativity and singular drive to belittle a queer community that Kramer clearly could not stand, and the shameless emotional manipulation of its audience.”

O’Malley appreciates Kramer’s gay activism to fight the indifference of the press and the government toward the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. However, O’Malley balks at Kramer’s blaming of gay men for spreading HIV, finding it politically irresponsible. He added, “such overwhelming sex negativity coming from such a prominent voice was damaging to a community that was dealing with an incredible blow to its fledgling sense of self-worth.”

Pioneers of gay activism

While The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer may have its detractors, the play-turned-HBO films production will hopefully encourage an increased awareness of not only the AIDS epidemic, but also the gay rights movement and the people who have led the cause.

Like all parts of the past, preserving the gay rights movement’s history and that of its pioneers is important to society. Lisa Neff expounded on this in “History Makers: Where Are the Founders of the Modern Gay Rights Movement, and What is Being Done to Preserve Their Stories” for The Advocate published on January 21, 2003. She says that today there are archives of material, both public and private, about gay activism that provides research opportunities, but that many of the movement’s pioneers are now dead.

Neff wrote, “Stored away in these community archives are photographs and papers documenting the transformation of a people who … went from believing there was something terribly wrong with them to believing there was something terribly wrong with society to believing ‘gay is good.’”

Want to learn more about gay rights or drama? Check out Questia—particularly do a search for AIDS activism

What do you think? Does The Normal Heart help or hurt the gay community? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Posted in History, Humanities, Literature, News and updates, QTA Blog, Student resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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