After reading about Marlon Riggs and watching  his 1989 film, Tongues United my mind began to think of other african-american males who have created an uproar in major news coverage due to tie to HIV. I immediately thought of Earvin Johnson Jr.

Most people would recognize Earvin Johnson as ‘Magic’ Johnson, a hall of fame point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers who played in the NBA from 1979-91. He is considered to be in the top 5 best players to ever play in the NBA and arguably the best point guard in NBA history. Before the 1991-92 season began, Johnson discovered that he had tested positive for HIV. On November 7, 1991, Johnson made a public announcement that he would retire immediately from the game of basketball because of testing positive to HIV. Despite his retirement, Johnson was voted by the fans as a starter for the 1992 All-Star Game and was also chosen to compete on the Olympic Team. He ended up winning All-Star MVP and received a gold medal in the Olympics.

The reasons I put Marlon and Magic together in my head I think, is because they were both portrayed in the media as victims and also “contaminated” people of color. When Marlon released the film, there was so much backlash about airing the video on American Public television. With Magic you had a response from players like Karl Malone, a hall of fame center for the Utah Jazz, say after hearing his announcement that he doesn’t want to play with someone who could easily get everyone on the court contaminated with this virus. But they also did a lot of activism for AIDS as well, Marlon’s film shows the pain as well as the mentally and physically agonizing therapy that Riggs has to go through in order to deal with having HIV. The film gave the audience a real and raw look at what having HIV is like. Whereas Magic Johnson created the Magic Johnson Foundation to help combat HIV,  and in 1992 he joined the National Commission on AIDS. Johnson’s campaigns sought to show that the risk of infection was not limited to drug addicts and homosexuals, which is what america portrayed to be the case in the media at the time.

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2 responses »

  1. kristenhong says:

    Magic Johnson is a basketball icon but many people tend to forget that he is HIV positive. His popularity in the basketball world helped bring more attention to the disease as well.

  2. maddiemcc19 says:

    Riggs’ discussed the hypocrisy of mainstream Americans’ disgust that public tax dollars were being used to produce and distribute Tongues Untied. Riggs’ talked about how this is hypocritical because people with HIV-AIDs and LGBTQ+ people are (surprise!) also tax payers. I would love to know how Johnson’s activism helped to change the stereotypes of people with HIV, and if that sort of activism would create more endowment for arts and representation within endowing art.

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