BFI Flare ‘AIDS DIVA: The Legend of Connie Norman’ Review: A Powerful Testament to an Activist

At the height of the AIDS pandemic, Connie Norman emerged as a powerful voice for the gay and trans rights movement. With interviews and original footage, Norman’s journey from the megaphone to the microphone, from the streets to the TV studios, the film details her rise to prominence and tragic death. The film puts her words in context but never forgets their continued relevance. It’s a testament to a powerful legacy of resistance.

The film very effectively creates a sense of the scene in 80s San Francisco as a joyously liberated place where gay people walked the streets and staffed the businesses. A powerful sense of community and belonging is recounted, but it stretches beyond good times. Beyond having fun, these groups became essential to the survival of the group. As crisis strikes and the government is completely indifferent to their suffering, partiers become care givers. AIDs was the harshest wake up call and the community responded with compassion for the victims and righteous rage at those who could have done more.

The story of a pandemic sweeping through neighbourhoods, disproportionately affecting a vulnerable group of marginalised people is disturbingly relevant. The blaming of the victims, the reluctance to act from those with the power to help, the cruelty of seeing acts of love turned into lethal mistakes, all far to familiar. It’s disturbing to think that these lessons could have all been learned earlier. However not all of the stories are of horror. Just like in the Covid Pandemic, inspiring stories of volunteering and love offer the hope that good people will always rise to the occasion and support each other. The rest shall share the shame.

Into this environment comes Connie Norman. The documentary sees her emerge from the picket lines, fully formed in her identity and sense of purpose. AIDS DIVA offers a great overview of Connie’s passion for her community, her impact, her success and the legacy of her voice. Seeing her in action is inspiring but  it’s impossible not to regret the loss of her voice and her effortless eloquence when speaking of compassion and justice. This film is a fabulous opportunity to familiarise yourself with one of the most bold voices in activism history.

Five stars

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