The Ithaca College Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services held a virtual screening, that could be watched at any point over the week, of the documentary movie “Fauci” from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4. The documentary was screened to give students and community members an opportunity to learn about Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Fauci held leading roles in the response to the AIDS epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fauci is widely regarded as the top infectious disease expert in the country. The documentary explores his medical background, his work and the controversy and recent distrust of scientific findings and guidance around the Coronavirus.
Luca Maurer, director for the LGBT Center at the college, said the documentary was chosen because of its relevance to current and historic events. He said many students talked with him about how the pandemic influenced their lives and did not know Fauci was a central figure in the AIDS epidemic and LGBTQ+ life in the 1980s and 90s as well.
“Having insight into the past can help inform our present and our future,” Maurer said. “Particularly when it comes to public health, discrimination, stigma and the AIDS epidemic and the way that unfolded in the 80s and the 90s.”
Maurer said the center has a long history of hosting documentary screenings of films and other events with relevance to LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ communities, and he thought learning about Fauci would be relevant.
Stewart Auyash, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education, specializes in public health policy and said he was involved in activism and followed and supported ACT UP’s work, which was an activism group that started in 1987 and fought for increased medical research to help end the AIDS crisis.
Auyash said he co-taught a course with Jonathan Ablard, a professor in the Department of History, called History of Public Health where they covered the AIDS epidemic and found many students did not know much about it or what it was like during the 80s and 90s.
The documentary was available to watch at any point during the week, and Maurer said about 60 people signed up including alumni, faculty, staff and community members in addition to students.
Jennifer Karchmer ’91, an independent journalist and member of the Ithaca Alumni Board since July 2020, said she watched the movie as a part of the screening because she loves documentaries and wanted to learn more about the man who is at the forefront of providing the country with information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci is the chief medical advisor to the president of the United States and makes numerous press appearances to provide guidance on COVID-19.
“I think it’s a great documentary because it shows us history,” Karchmer said. “While we’ve made strides in HIV and AIDS, it’s important to know the origins of it, and how our government and our society has handled it. And I think the same is going to be true of COVID.”
Karchmer said she thought the most interesting part was the information about his work during the AIDS epidemic.
“I had no idea the longevity of his career,” Karchmer said. “I thought the documentary really showed him as a true, authentic person.”
Auyash said he thought the documentary showed Fauci, a person who has become a cultural icon, in a favorable light. According to a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted in July 2021, 68% of Americans said they are confident Fauci is providing trustworthy advice on COVID-19.
“It showed him as a person, not just a scientist or doctor or the voice,” Auyash said. “Someone else is probably going to do another film about Fauci and point out all the mistakes he made at some point, but that’s not what this filmmaker’s job [was].”
The documentary included interviews with activists who were active during the AIDS epidemic. The activists were angry with the slow rate at which research was being done to study the disease.
The first cases of gay men dying from an unknown immune disorder, known as AIDS now, were reported in 1981 and the first FDA approved drug to treat the disease was not approved until 1987, according to the Center for Cancer Research. From 1981 to 1990, 100,977 deaths were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HIV can affect anyone regardless of sexual orientation, race or ethnitcity, but gay and bisexual men were heavily impacted during the AIDS epidemic and in 2009 accounted for 61% of new HIV infections while making up approximately 2% of the U.S. population, according to the CDC.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization, over 700,000 people have died from HIV and AIDS and more than 1.2 million people live with HIV in the United States. There is still no cure or vaccine for HIV and AIDS.
Maurer said he and his peers were also frustrated with Fauci’s and the government’s pace since his friends were dying.
“Some of those processes were changed, like now there is a process that can speed experimental drugs into the hands of sick people much quicker than during the 80s,” Maurer said. “That’s specifically because of the work we did as a population … to advocate with Dr. Fauci and other researchers and scientists to say … [if] a drug won’t cause harm, perhaps it could be more quickly spread to the people that need it before years and years of trials take place.”
The center will be holding a post-screening discussion led by Maurer in the coming weeks, and he said he is expecting to facilitate intergenerational conversations of students asking older individuals more about what their lives were like during the AIDS epidemic and about what it is like to have a figure like Fauci in the news today.
“[Fauci] can be a person that is a scientist and a person that we felt was an obstacle a number of years ago who evolved and progressed in how he does science,” Maurer said.