When the AIDS epidemic first exploded in the U.S., those who suffered from the largely-misunderstood disease were heavily stigmatized and often blamed for their sickness, as gay and bisexual men made up much of the initially afflicted population in this country. Some doctors and nurses even refused to treat these patients. But in San Francisco, one hospital created a dedicated unit, known as Ward 5B, that specifically cared for people with HIV or AIDS.
Those who saw the loss of partners, friends and family members during the early years of the AIDS crisis should find the film a somber, evocative reminder of that devastating yet galvanizing era. For others, the film is a tough, vital lesson in love, valor and compassion.
Using a trove of archival clips and photos plus a wealth of candid recent interviews with former Ward 5B nurses and doctors, AIDS survivors and relatives of the disease’s victims, the filmmakers paint a stirring portrait of the huge physical and emotional toll this mysterious scourge initially took on the gay community.
But 5B proves as inspiring as it does unsettling with its heroic stories of the hospital staffers and allies who fought ignorance, fear, bigotry and political wrangling to protect the rights and integrity of AIDS patients.
Testimony from key observers such as Ward 5B’s nurse manager Alison Moed, activist-performer Rita Rockett, HIV/AIDS-treatment pioneer Dr. Paul Volberding and Ward 5B nurse Mary Magee (who contracted HIV from a needle-stick accident) is moving, powerful and essential.
In for Jim Braude, Adam Reilly was joined by Alison Moed, one of the nurses from that unit, and Hank Plante, a journalist who covered the AIDS crisis in San Francisco from its early days — both of whom are featured in a new documentary about the unit, 5B. Watch the discussion below.
People magazine says, “It’s been 50 years since the Stonewall Riots launched the gay rights movement, and less than 40 since the AIDS epidemic ravaged the gay community, killing millions. This weekend, in the middle of Gay Pride month, the new documentary 5B chronicles the creation of the first hospital ward in the United States to treat HIV patients.
“This was a time when people weren’t even touching patients with HIV,” says Priyanka Chopra, a prominent supporter of the film on behalf of the AIDS charity RED, which will receive 30 percent of all box office proceeds. “They would lay in their soiled bedsheets for days where nobody would come and even enter their room to feed them. At that time, these nurses chose to not think about whether they would live or die and actually the nobility of the profession is what you see in this movie.”
Watch the powerful trailer below.