Students from Westinghouse High School are key interviewers — not just interview subjects — in Why Us? Left Behind and Dying, the 2010 documentary by acclaimed director and producer Claudia Pryor Malis.
The 90-minute film airs at 8 p.m. tonight on WQED-TV.
Malis, a longtime and award-winning network-television producer, wanted to make a film about the impact of HIV/AIDS on African Americans. In January 2006, she came to Westinghouse, in Homewood, to ask the students to participate.
In press materials, she tells how, suspicious of being used, the African-American students shouted her down — until she said, "Yeah, I'm here because this is a black school. This is now a black disease. So where else would I be?"
Blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but in 2006 accounted for 45 percent of all new HIV cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Malis points out.
Ultimately, 20 Westinghouse students participated in the film project. Nearly 90 students from Peabody High School were also involved in evaluating the film.
Why Us? explores how poverty, miseducation, history, culture and even imprisonment work together to make HIV/AIDS black. The filmmakers helped the students interview straights, homosexuals, intravenous drug users, public-health experts and scientists.
Other interview subjects in Why Us? include African AIDS experts and Magic Johnson, the former NBA star who two decades ago announced his retirement after learning he was HIV-positive.
The most-involved Westinghouse student was Tamira Noble, who as a senior was among the first to sign up to help; after Noble graduated, Malis hired her as a production associate. Noble, who narrated the finished film, is now a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.
Other local talent on the crew includes cinematographer Chris Ivey, a noted documentarian in his own right (for his East of Liberty series).
Why Us? had a free screening at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in February 2010, but tonight's airing on WQED is its first local broadcast.
For more information, see the website of Malis' Connecticut-based production company, www.diversityfilms.org.