‘Fathers’ Explores a World Where AIDS Never Killed Our Queer Forbearers (Video)

‘Fathers’ Explores a World Where AIDS Never Killed Our Queer Forbearers (Video)

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Gay Mexican director Leo Herrera is directing Fathers (aka. The Fathers Project), a sci-fi documentary that explores how society might be different if the AIDS epidemic had never happened.

The film mixes real life and fantasy with a cast and crew including historians, artists and performers who imagine the cultural and political influence that we could have had had our “fathers” (the queer men who proceeded us) had not become part of a lost generation.

Here is a trailer for Fathers:

The project could be described as Cruising meets Black Mirror meets Beyonce’s Lemonade — it’s sexy yet surreal, artistic and intensely political — and the entire thing is funded by individual donors and art patrons. Folks can support the project by donating and shopping the Fathers queer art gallery at iftheylived.org.

We spoke with Herrera about his project, what cultural changes AIDS lost for us and which positive changes still await queer culture in the future.

How long have you been working on The Fathers Project and what was your inspiration?

I’ve been working on Fathers for two years and we’ve just begun filming across the U.S.. Fathers came from the deep longing in the queer community for the guidance of the older generation that was destroyed by AIDS. My inspiration is a love for the art and culture that this lost generation created and the question of what could have been.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial we keep our history alive. There are many lessons in our past that will get us through our current political situation. It’s also important to keep AIDS in our imagination, because it’s the only way we’ll find creative solutions to repair the damage it did to our culture.

One of several portraits that Herrera commissioned, imagining what men lost to AIDS might have looked like in old age.

White gay men have dominated much of the AIDS narrative, yet black and Latino gay men have been, and continue to be, disproportionately impacted by the epidemic. How has The Fathers Project met the challenge of including the unique experiences of gay men of color?

As a Mexican immigrant, it’s frustrating to have to dig so much deeper for the stories of queer people of color (QPOC), especially as our HIV and AIDS rates continue to be apocalyptic. Fathers is not only reaching out to museums and archives for these stories, but also collaborating with QPOC artists to star in the film and influence the look and soundtrack, which is why we’re filming in places like New Orleans and Chicago.

If AIDS hadn’t killed so many of our activists and used up so many resources, we could have focused our energies on other fields. Our marginalized communities, especially our trans family and folks of color, could have more effective ways to take care of one another in healthcare, education and immigration.

The epidemic had a profound impact on politics and culture. It helped jumpstart the coming out movement, largely because men could no longer be in the closest. Healthcare as a right was a main tenant of AIDS activism. How might politics today look different if AIDS never happened?

Each election cycle, I think of what our most outspoken activists would have achieved in American politics, how many more openly LGBT politicians we would have, which rights we could have focused resources on much earlier. This is why one of the main storylines of the film is the election of a gay president.

The ’70s gave us a gay sexual revolution and AIDS brought about a sexual devolution. If AIDS never happened, how do you think our sexual revolution would have progressed?

I believe the sex-positive groups that were a big part of gay liberation, the leathermen, gender queers and radical faeries, would have flourished and combined with the mainstream to create a new American sexuality. It’s almost painful to imagine, but I do know we would have much, much nicer bathhouses and poppers would probably be marketed toward straight people.

Here is a second, more avant-garde trailer for Fathers:

The film Making Love was made in 1981 and ends with a scene set in their future that had no inkling of AIDS. It’s heartbreaking as they imagine a bright optimistic future for the gay men in 1981. What did men who were living in the early ’80s imagine the future would be like before AIDS happened?

We’ve been interviewing queer elders and it’s such a hard question to ask survivors. There was such an optimism by 1980; our culture had survived assassinations, police raids, conversion therapies, riots, the closet and we had created a movement with an incredible future. AIDS destroyed so much of that and exposed just how deep homophobia and racism could run in America.

I don’t think we have or will ever recover, but Fathers aims to take that original optimism and create something beautiful with it. As I see how countries like America, Chechnya and Uganda continue to deal with queer people I think, what could be more transgressive than imagining a queer utopia?

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