Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Representation of AIDS/gay community in 'An Early Frost' 1985.

'An Early frost' - Gay representation/representation of AIDS in 1980's film and TV

'An Early Frost' was a TV movie aired on 11th November 1985, and was viewed by 34 million people and nominated for fourteen Emmy Awards (and won four).

 'An Early Frost' is about a successful lawyer who is forced to come out to his family after his partner cheats on him and transmits AIDS to him. The main character Michael Pierson’s family react in different ways. His father (Nick) at first refuses to talk to his son as he no longer knows who his son is. Michael’s mother (Kate) tries to be supportive by trying to get the rest of the family to accept Michael. As she has read an article about AIDs and knows it can’t be transmitted through casual contact. However, Michaels sister Susan is pregnant and refuses to see Michael as she “can’t take that chance” of AIDs being transmitted to her, her son or her unborn baby. And at one point she physically stops her son from hugging Michael.

The film focusses on a white gay male perspective, and reaffirms the stereotypes of the origin of AIDS, that it was gay men that were first infected. The film also tries to send a message that monogamous relationships are preferred over the alternatives. As Michael only contracted AIDS because his partner cheated on him, the film tries to gain the viewers sympathy for the main character by emphasising this monogamous relationship. Which gives an insight into the 1980’s views about casual relationships, especially regarding the gay community.

This film shows the stigma attached to AIDS as Michael is in a hospital room at the beginning of the film with an ‘Isolation’ sign on the door, and members of the hospital staff refuse to tend to Michael because he has been diagnosed with AIDS. Later in the film Michael needs to be taken to the hospital after being found unconscious, however the paramedics refuse to transport him to the hospital when they find out he has AIDS. As well as this, when another man (Victor) in the same hospital as Michael dies due to AIDS we see the doctor wearing a face mask and disposing of Victor’s personal belongings because it was thought they might spread AIDS. All of these different things in the film show how the even the medical community thought of AIDS in such a misinformed way at this time.

Compared to later films about AIDS, ‘An Early Frost’ offers quite a good representation of gay people. Michael and his partner Peter are shown kissing, although this is because they needed to be shown as partners and not just friends. However in the 1993 film ‘Philadelphia’ the two main characters are obviously partners but there is never any indication that they have a sexual relationship. So compared to this ‘An Early Frost’ at least shows a more normal gay couple.

The commercial film industry at this time wanted to make films about AIDS whilst avoiding making films about homosexuality. Such as ‘An Early Frost’, where NBC had the producer’s spend two years developing this film and rewriting the script until NBC found it acceptable to air, as they didn't want it to be too much about the gay community.

Therefore, this film gives us insight into the representation of people with AIDS and this film deals with the issues around misinformation about AIDS and highlights the 1980’s stigma towards gay men.


The AIDS Movie: Representing a Pandemic in Film and Television
Queer Representation, Visibility, and Race in American Film and Television: Screening the Closet

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