Living Positive

"We need to help our young girls set goals. Help them negotiate condom usage. Help them be stronger. Give them the encouragement to say, "this is my body and I have a choice." -Film Participant 


LIVING POSITIVE is a 15-minute film told through the words and stories of five women in New Orleans who share the challenges and triumphs of living with HIV. Far from stopping at individual stories, the film explores the social forces underlying the disease-including racism, poverty, lack ofinformation about HIV, and the stigma associated with the disease. 

The women in LIVING POSITIVE have faced many struggles, including substance abuse, sex work, mental health issues, and sometimes even rejection by their families, friends and community. A number of them continue to contend with the physical and psychological aftermath of Katrina. But these women are also survivors, and LIVING POSITIVE highlights their strengths and their many accomplishments. We hear how social networks made up of family, friends, and community-based organizations sustain them and help them grow. We learn about the powerful role of religion and spirituality in their lives. We see how working with other HIV positive women has brought a sense of meaning and fulfillment to their lives. Ultimately, the film shows how being HIV positive has been a transformative experience for these women.



Discussion Guide

This discussion guide provides questions to help you engage your family and friends, your class, or your community in a discussion about the impact of HIV on women and the underlying reasons that HIV disproportionately affects African American women.


  • The lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS is fueling the epidemic.
  • The stigmatization of HIV positive people is still pervasive and negatively affects both mental and physical health.
  • Social support networks and self-empowerment are important factors improving the health status of HIV positive women.

Discussion Questions

  • Although Gina and the other women in the film are HIV positive, you wouldn't necessarily know it by looking at them. What do you think are some of the things keeping these women healthy and full of life?

Cynthia, Gina, and others thought they were going to die when they found out they had contracted HIV, and some people still see HIV/AIDS as a fatal disease. However, others also now perceive it as a condition that-with the proper treatment-is chronic, manageable, and for this reason not so worrisome.

  • Does the truth lie in between these two extremes and if so can you describe where?
  • What some ways that you can contract HIV? What are ways that you do not contract HIV? What are some important methods of HIV prevention?

Cynthia and Jaivanique speak compellingly about how friends and relatives feared "catching HIV" from casual contact with them.

  • Why do you think the misconceptions about HIV transmission are still so pervasive?
  • What should be done about this?
  • Are any of the same misconceptions common in your community?
  • African American women have a disproportionately high risk of contracting HIV. (According to the Centers for Disease Control, black women experience a rate of HIV diagnoses 23 times greater than white women.) How do you think racism might play a role in these higher rates of diagnosis?
  • Cynthia and some of the other women in LIVING POSITIVE have a past that
    includes substance abuse and/or sex work. What are some underlying reasons that might lead women in these directions? What might be some solutions?
  • The film discusses methods of HIV prevention-such as HIV/AIDS education and the use of condoms-that have to do with individual behavior. But what are some
    prevention methods that might address the root causes of increasing HIV rates in the African American community? Try to address racism and poverty.
  • How might gender play a role in the fact that women of color now face a
    disproportionate risk of HIV infection?
  • Jacquie talks about the importance of her church in her life, and most of the other women mention family members, friends, or organizations that have stood by them despite their HIV status. Can you describe the role of such support networks in the physical and mental health of HIV positive women?



Belle Reve, New Orleans 
(504) 942-2670; (504) 945-9455

Camp ACE, of St. John #5 Faith Church 
(504) 283-7376

Centers for Disease Control (2006, April). HIV/AIDS among women. 

Family Advocacy, Care and Education Services (FACES) 
(504) 821-4611

National AIDS Fund 
(202) 408-4848

N'R Peace, 
(504) 364-1950

General Resources:


Meet the Filmmakers

DEBORAH CRAIG has an eclectic background in history, writing, public health, music,and the visual arts. She received a B.A. in American History from Columbia University, has been a jazz drummer and photographer since her teens, and spent many years in the software industry, writing over a dozen books on various software applications. She joined the Masters in Public Health program at San Francisco State University in the fall of 2006. Besides completing the required coursework, she is taking documentary film classes to search for ways in which the arts can be used to enhance awareness about public health issues. Her film "The Verde Garde: Growing a Healthy Community," came out in the Spring of 2007 and was featured in the San Francisco State Film Finals.

RYAN HILDEBRANT has had a lifelong interest in all forms of media. He holds an Associates of Science degree in video production and, prior to coming to San Francisco State University, had two years of professional work experience on local documentaries, educational programming, and video  production for the web in his home city of San Diego, California. His primary production interests are in lighting and camera, although he is experienced in post production and sound as well. Ryan graduated from San Francisco State University with his Bachelors of Arts in Cinema Production in May of 2008.

ANTHONY MASSUNG has an intense passion for moviemaking and has been working with film and video for over five years. Having gotten into filmmaking because he wants to contribute to positive social change, Anthony recently joined Ryan Hildebrant and Deborah Craig to create a documentary about HIV positive women in New Orleans. Anthony graduated with a BA in Cinema in May of 2008.

BRETT HICKMAN: When he was a young boy, it was common to see Brett carrying his father's large shoulder-mounted VHS camera, making small films with anyone brave enough on the cul-de-sac where he lived. Eventually he attended San Francisco State University, with a major in Cinema. There Brett took part in several student films, including a short documentary entitled The Verde Garden: Growing a Healthy Community,which was featured in the San Francisco State Film Finals and prompted a substantial United Way grant to the Verde Garden. Brett graduated from San Francisco State University in May of 2007. He now lives in Irvine, California, where he has harnessed his newfound passion for documentary style filmmaking, and is currently active as a free lance camera operator on several projects. Brett was asked to accompany the New Orleans group on their production as a second camera op, and is very honored to be a part of this new documentary, Living Positive.  



View the high-quality version of this film


*The information on these pages is provided by the student film makers and does not represent an endorsement or verification of statements from the Health Equity Institute