'Wilhemina’s War' sheds light on AIDS epidemic in rural South Carolina

Students attended a film screening and post-film discussion of "Wilhelmina's War" in the Student Union Art Gallery on Monday, December 5. The film screening was held in honor of World AIDS Day. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

On Dec. 5, the UConn chapter of Partners In Health Engage held a screening of the documentary “Wilhemina’s War.” “Wilhemina’s War,” about a family who had been touched by HIV and AIDS, bringing to light their unseen trials and tribulations. After the film there was a short discussion where audience members asked questions and discussed how they felt about the film.

“Wilhemina’s War,” directed by journalist June Cross, followed the lives of Wilhemina Dixon’s family over the span of five years. Cross stated that rural South Carolina, where Wilhemina and her family lived, was an epicenter for the AIDS epidemic, which affected African-American women more than any other demographic.

Due to spending cuts on healthcare in South Carolina, many who tested positive for HIV found themselves traveling for over an hour in order to receive medical care and support- and many had to take over a dozen pills a day to treat their HIV/AIDS.

According to Cross, many women suffered negative side effects from these pills, and as a result they would stop taking them, which had life threatening consequences. These women also faced discrimination throughout their lives, and Wilhemina’s family was no exception.

Wilhemina’s daughter, Toni, and granddaughter, Dayshal, had tested positive for HIV/AIDS. Dayshal, who was born with HIV, had written openly about her experience with HIV/AIDS, wishing to shed light on a subject that is both ignored and under reported. As a result of this, Dayshal had to drop out of school because of the bullying she had received from her peers.

Over the span of the documentary, Dayshal had lost her mother to AIDS because she, like many other women, had decided to stop taking her medication. Dayshal’s resilience to what life had thrown at her was awe inspiring, as she did not stop speaking out about her struggle with HIV/AIDS, despite the discrimination she had faced while also working toward her GED.

After the screening, the floor was opened for discussion. Audience members voiced their opinions on the film, many saying that they loved the honesty and realism, and how it gave a more personal approach to the topic rather than just providing them with statistics.

Several audience members asked what UConn was doing to confront the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, to which members of Partners in Health Engage stated that they hoped-through events like this one, to educate students on what HIV/AIDS is really like, which would help diminish the stigma.

“Being in Connecticut, we don’t get to see the perspectives of people in the South. At UConn, you can advocate for anything. In South Carolina, they couldn’t even advocate for HIV/AIDS in church,” Brianna Nelson, a third semester Theater Studies major said. “The girl in the film [Dayshal] was close to my age, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live with HIV/AIDS. It’s important that we are aware of the statistics and the stigma- I don’t think anyone should be judged or belittled for having HIV/AIDS.”

“Wilhemina’s War” gave audience members a unique view into the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS in rural South Carolina. Although World AIDS Day has already passed, it is essential that events that promote AIDS education happen across campus. It is through this education that people become aware of this epidemic, which will hopefully help get rid of the stigma surrounding to HIV/AIDS.


Lauren Brown is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lauren.brown@uconn.edu.