"The hostility towards the film surprised me"
Throwing light on the dark underbelly of AIDS medication in Africa, director of Fire in the Blood, Dylan Mohan Gray tells Ruchika Kher more about "the crime of the century"
How did you find this subject?
I got interested in this topic while reading a newspaper article in 2004, which described the battle for access to AIDS medication in Africa. The article took a more corporate approach to the whole issue, but it seemed that there were things that weren’t being said. That piqued my curiosity. So, after more research I was shocked to find very little information on this subject. It became a personal obsession because I’m a political person and in my earlier years, I was a historian; so, this seemed like that there was a big historic episode that was in the process of disappearing from the record of human history.
How difficult was it to convince people to talk about such a controversial topic?
It took a long time to get former US President Bill Clinton to sit down with us, but it’s understandable. I didn’t come from a big news organisation nor was I a big name, so, for someone like Clinton, there were a lot of downsides of talking to me. But, we started working on the film in South Africa and quickly, ensured that we got all the important people in the story. By the time we started talking to the Clinton Foundation, it was clear that the story was going to happen, with or without him. He is an important part of it, so I think they realised that it’s better to be in than not because we were creating a definitive account of this story.
Since the film targets governments and big pharma companies, was it tough to release it in the West?
We were attacked a lot. We have one of the highest ratings on rottentomatoes.com, which is the site that aggregates all the professional critics, but there is low rating on imdb.com because people in the US, even before the release, were giving low ratings to the film. There’s no way they could’ve seen the film. Even the so-called liberal media in the US is antagonistic -- they don’t want to talk about changing the system of commercialising and developing medicines. Somehow, the corporate pro-narrative is so ingrained in them that I encountered a lot of hostility. It’s a fair film and thoroughly fact-checked, so the hostility towards it surprised me. Also, I noticed a misrepresentation that the film was weepy, why-the-world-so-cruel kinds, which is false. It’s about how these people were intentionally denied medication that could have saved them, and they died because of that.
Was there a sense of responsibility?
Huge. I was hesitant, initially, because I wasn’t sure whether I was qualified to make an important film since there was no other film on this. But, the strong response is gratifying. This films isn’t just for experts or academics; it had to connect with public.
Fire In The Blood
The film exposes how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments, blocked access to low-cost AIDS drugs for the countries in Africa and the global south after 1996, causing over 10 million deaths, and the improbable group of people who decided to fight back. Ashutosh Phatak, co-founder of True School of Music, composed the film’s music.
Opens: October 11