What would happen if you contracted a ghost through sexual intercourse and the only way to keep it from killing you was to give it to someone else? This is the premise of It Follows, a new horror film by David Robert Mitchell. The Whorer was lucky enough to catch a pre-release screening followed by a Q&A with an infectious disease epidemiologist and representatives from Nashville CARES and Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee.
Without wading too far into spoiler territory, we’ll infect you with some of the more interesting issues that surfaced in the Q&A. Hopefully this will add a few new perspectives to the film.
The Q&A was all about STDs. Dr. Sten H. Vermund described viral or incurable STDs as “the closest we’ve got to a modern phantom.” An obvious comparison is HIV; specifically, an African and Asian myth that HIV can be cured by having sex with a virgin.
Considering It Follows is a film about a group of teenagers, Nashville CARES representative Aaron Campbell was quick to point out that younger generations are one of the fastest growing HIV-infected populations, suggesting a disconnect between young people and those who lived through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. It’s true that HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it once was, but as Planned Parenthood noted, STDs in general are becoming more drug resistant. Dr. Vermund added, “we can’t keep up with the bacteria.”
Mirroring the themes of the film was our conversation with Aaron about the criminalization of exposure to HIV. Criminalization of exposure means that individuals who do not disclose their HIV status to sexual partners can suffer punishment under the law. Thirty-three states have HIV-specific exposure laws and in Tennessee, for example, violators can be charged with a Class C felony. Consequences of nondisclosure of a life threatening disease is exactly the scenario of the young girl in the film. The boy she has sex with does not share that he has a ghost STD until after he’s already infected her.
When thinking about the varying degrees of privilege and support the characters in the film have, it’s also important to point out that charges for criminal exposure to HIV in Tennessee have been found to predominantly affect people who “are poor, from marginalized groups, and often suffer from drug dependency or mental illness, or both.” (Galletly & Lazzarini, 2013) Similarly, one cannot help but think about how things like race, class, and ability affect use of and access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medical treatment that is supposed to prevent or control the spread of HIV.
Again, these are just some of the issues that came up in the post-screening Q&A. It Follows opens at the Belcourt this weekend and hopefully at a theater near you! It’s definitely worth the watch and we’d love to hear your thoughts. It’s a great follow-up to our Contracted episode.