"We have to start being powerful, or we are going to die. It is up to us. Right now!"
"We are no longer effeminite drag queens or whatever they put on television. And that image changed overnight."
Those words by longtime activist Larry Kramer, spoken at the beginning and in the aftermath of the HIV and AIDS crisis, are featured in a new HBO documentary: Larry Kramer in Love and Anger focuses on his history as a political firebrand and his career as an activist, author, and playwright. The documentary was directed and produced Jean Carlomusto.
To those who don't know, Kramer co-founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) — two of the first HIV and AIDS organizations — and is credited with giving a voice to a generation of gay men who battled the disease in private and on the political stage. His calls for direct action made AIDS a national issue and changed public health policy, as HBO explains in a news release promoting the documentary's debut.
"One of the most outspoken and controversial figures in contemporary gay America, this complicated man is known simultaneously as egotistic and selfless, angry and inspiring, rude and caring," the entertainment giant says. "To his admirers, Kramer is a prophet whose early warnings to the gay community about promiscuity and AIDS now read as eerily prescient.
"In 1987, furious at years of government inaction on AIDS, Kramer called for a more militant approach to fight the disease. The group he inspired, ACT UP, had a major role in bringing attention to the appallingly inept response to a mounting epidemic. ACT UP prompted the medical and political activism that led to the first effective antiretroviral treatments to save millions of lives, and changed the definition of AIDS to include the symptoms that were killing women and the poor. Many of the younger men and women in ACT UP viewed Kramer as a father figure who inspired fear and anger, but also engendered in them a sense of purpose. He urged them to fight, and castigated them when he felt they weren’t doing enough.
"Larry Kramer in Love and Anger shows what can happen when one person has the courage to challenge the system and inspire others to stand up and fight. He is the irrefutable father of the AIDS movement, which has ushered in a new era of strength and advancement in the struggle for LGBT rights."
Kramer spoke to Time to promote the documentary, telling the magazine, "I don’t regret anything I’ve done or said. No matter what you say, some people are going to like it and some people aren’t. So it hasn’t shut me up at all. Inside I’m just as tempestuous."
"Now,” Kramer says, "we don’t have people who are as frightened as we were."
An official selection at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, the documentary is narrated by Kramer himself, who won several awards for his play and teleplay for The Normal Heart.
Larry Kramer in Love and Anger premieres on HBO on June 29 at 9pm. Kramer's newest book, The American People: Volume 1 is available in bookstores now.
Video of Kramer's interview with Time and a preview of the documentary are below.