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Sex Positive

Dir: Daryl Wein

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Regent Releasing

75 Minutes

Throughout history, there have always been front-runners in both the social and scientific realms of the human “community.” Oftentimes, these progressive individuals are met initially with distrust and even animosity by the majority of society. In Sex Positive, we meet David Berkowitz, a progressive but quirky AIDS activist pioneer who is both the main narrator and the primary focus of the film. We begin with Berkowitz as a youth growing up in a liberal Jewish family. This includes his introduction to the gay lifestyle and his becoming an early gay activist while writing for the school newspaper as college student at Rutgers. We watch him as he explores his own sexuality through promiscuity and witness his development into a extremely active gay S/M hustler. It is only after he contracts AIDS and his observation of the disease’s rapid emergence in the early 1980s that it dawns upon him that something has to be done to save lives.

Berkowitz eventually meets and falls under the mentorship of Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a virologist and early AIDS researcher. He embraces the doctor’s multifocal theory regarding the spread of AIDS. This theory points to repeated unsafe sexual exposure, the use of drugs and the involvement of other predisposing situations and infections all contribute to the expression of the active disease state. Through exposure to this theory and his alliance with Michael Callen, a famous AIDS activist and musician who himself is dying of the disease, the beginning of AIDS awareness, education and measures to effectively halt its spread by adapting techniques of practicing safe sex found its inception.

Surprisingly, Berkowitz and his colleagues are met for quite some time with intense opposition and disdainful mistrust by the gay community including the well known gay activist, Larry Kramer. Gay men, in general, had at that time finally felt liberation and the key expression among many of them took the form of leading sexually promiscuous lives. To many of them, “safe sex” meant “no sex” and put up much resistance to being advised in giving up a freedom they had so recently gained.

Director Daryl Wein brilliantly creates a documentary composed with depth and dimension by incorporating vintage footage of news interviews and articles, rallies, protests, scenes depicting the gay lifestyle in the ’80s and cameo appearances of not only the figures central to the story but also cameos of AIDS researchers, testimonies by authorities in men’s health, plus observations and shared experiences of other activists, friends and acquaintances.

Sex Positive is a film that will not only hold the audience’s attention but is also highly educational and satisfying to watch. It also provides an example on how resistant and oftentimes deaf we can be in response to the “wake-up calls” that the universe frequently provides.

by Allyn Sterling

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