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And the Band Played On

"...Randy Shilts's chronicle detailing the emergence of AIDS in America and the fight against bureaucracy and society for a cure is a taut, outrageous, and affecting true-life drama. Matthew Modine (Birdy, Married to the Mob) is featured as a doctor with the Centers for Disease Control at the time when the first reports of a disease plaguing the gay community were heard. Modine and his colleagues embark on an investigation that resembles a compelling detective story as they try to track the source of the disease and discover a cure. Their efforts are thwarted by an ambivalent government and a turf war between French physicians and a celebrated American researcher (Alan Alda) who seems to place his own glory above the dead and the dying. Featuring heartfelt performances from a stellar cast including Richard Gere, Glenne Headly, Anjelica Huston, Steve Martin, Ian McKellen, Saul Rubinek, and Lily Tomlin, this impassioned film stands as an impressive and important document of one of the darkest eras in modern human history, and a tribute to the spirit of those who sought to save lives."

--Robert Lane, review from

Suggested Ethical Questions for Discussion:

1. The outbreak of AIDS in the United States was worsened by the responses from virtually everyone from the Reagan White House to the gay community in San Francisco. What do you think could have been done from the governmental end of the response in order to more quickly identify and contain the disease?

2. How do you think the CDC acted in its reporting of the outbreak? Was it unbiased and purely scientific? Should it have been?

3. How did the movie change your beliefs on the interaction between scientists working to solve the same problem? Were you surprised by Dr. Gallo's actions in working with (or against) the French?

4. Matthew Modine's character seems to be very critical of everyone else involved in the process and offers little leeway to anybody who does not share his opinions. Do you think he acted in a scientifically responsible way? If he was in charge of the US response (from funding on down) do you think the outcome would have been better? Why or why not?

5. How did the movie affect your opinion of government funding and bureaucracy when it comes to scientific research?

6. What part of the blame do you think lies with President Reagan's decision to basically ignore the outbreak of AIDS? Is it realistic to propose that he would have acted differently had it not been seen as a "gay cancer" initially?

7. What impact do you think the fact that virtually only gays were infected at the start of the outbreak had on the research and resolution of the problem?

8. The photo-mirage at the end of the movie shows famous people who contracted AIDS. Arthur Ashe died of AIDS after he had received the disease through a blood transfusion. Magic Johnson continues to live with HIV, although it is in remission and almost undetectable in his body. What impact do you think the celebrity community has had on AIDS research and opinions about AIDS in mainstream America? Do you think their impact has been greater than the impact of 195,000 people who died of AIDS in the first 10 years of its existence in the United States? What are the implications of that for scientific research/funding when it comes to medical needs?

9. Do you think the reaction of the blood banks was appropriate? How should it have been different? Is a different reaction a realistic possibility given the dire state of funding in many organizations who collect blood?

10. Do you think the United States would respond in a more effective way if a new disease (similar in its effects to AIDS) were found now? Has the government's response to scientific issues changed in the last 25 years due to AIDS?

11. There are groups today who believe that the US government should not fund AIDS research and should instead concentrate its money elsewhere in order to benefit a greater number of Americans. What do you think the impact of that would be on AIDS research and the public's attitude toward AIDS?