How To Tell A Secret – Film Review
by Frank L.
Directors – Shaun Dunne, Anna Rodgers
Writers – Shaun Dunne, Anna Rodgers
Stars – Shaun Dunne, Eva-Jane Gaffney, Jade Jordan
When AIDS emerged as a transmissible fatal disease in the early 1980s it was surrounded by a great deal of fear, moral opprobrium and ignorance which were fanned by various institutions for their own political and religious purposes. Science has since identified the virus, HIV, which causes AIDS and has developed in the intervening years a whole series of drugs which can reduce the prevalence of HIV in the body so that it is undetectable and therefore untransmittable. As a result nowadays a person with HIV can lead a totally fulfilling life with the virus, but the stigma created by the initial reaction to AIDS remains prominent in the public consciousness. People who have HIV are likely therefore to keep it a secret. Robbie Lawlor is a young man who having been given a diagnosis of HIV approximately a decade ago has chosen not to keep it a secret. He has chosen to be open about it and encourage other people to be open as he campaigns to educate the general population about the reality of an HIV diagnosis in 2022. The message is simple once the virus is, because of the drugs, “Undetectable” in the body it is “Untransmittable”. He, therefore, leads a life which is as complex and fulfilling as any person who has not been infected.
Shaun Dunne, who is a friend of Robbie Lawlor, is aware of the need to remove the stigma surrounding a diagnosis of HIV. He wrote a play entitled “Rapids” which was an early manifestation of his determination to remove the stigma. He now uses all his skills to bring the same message via the medium of film. He has done so by combining the techniques of theatre and film. He uses four actors for certain situations, he has recorded interviews with individuals with HIV and their friends and families and blends this with documentary footage both contemporaneous and from the past. There is historical footage of Tom McGinty, the Diceman, who brought much joy to Grafton Street and Dublin a quarter of a century ago. He came from a time when the science was grappling with HIV. However, he was an inspiration to Enda McGrattan as a teenager (better known now as drag queen Veda) who features prominently as he, she, they go to infinite pains with a dress designer (Cyane Kingston) to create a splendid costume for Veda to swagger, with carefree joy, up Grafton Street in homage to the Diceman. It is all immensely uplifting.
Dunne ably assisted by Lawlor, his team of four actors, Veda and various other friends both HIV positive and negative, create a world which is full of humour and laughter while getting across the all important message that if the virus is undetectable, it is untransmissable. Therefore the stigmas which surround an HIV diagnosis are stigmas that hark back to a bygone age.
Telling the story of HIV and AIDS in a rational yet life-affirming manner requires extraordinary skills. Dunne by combining his theatrical techniques with those of a documentary filmmaker has created an educational, uplifting and joyous film. It deserves to be seen by a wide audience as it has an important message for anyone who is sexually active both young and old; “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable” (U=U). Go and watch this brave, fun and life-affirming film.