For a doc about a health crisis, All of Us ends up engaging some of our cultures gravest and most endemic ills. Investigating the disproportionate rise of HIV rates among black women (who make up 68% of new HIV cases in the US) leads Abt and her star, Dr. Mehret Mandefro, to grapple with unaddressed racial and gender inequality. What – according to conventional wisdom – is a simple question of sexual education, proves to be a symptom of America’s most enduring humanitarian shortcomings: engrained racism and sexism, and crippling Puritanism.
All of Us explores its Bronx locales like a case study, touching on national biases with terrific rhetorical efficiency. If not for its far-reaching implications for (yes) all of us, the film might be re-titled 3 Women (the Altman reference might not be entirely inappropriate, either). Abt’s camera is embedded with Ethiopian-American Mehret (whose drive and charisma keep All of Us interested even when the director seems stalled between two ideas) and makes its discoveries through her self-reflexive musings and the daily hardships of two patients, Tara and Chevelle.
Abt brushes aside the massive class differences between the three women to uncover their fundamental similarities through point-counterpoint editing and (sometimes uncomfortably) prying questions. Only Mehret is a college grad and HIV-negative, but all three suffer various repercussions of sexual, racial and economic inequity.
If the scenario sounds nightmarish (and it is), Mehret’s trip to Ethiopia near the film’s end reveals how much worse things could be. What's often referred to as a health crisis here is a national crisis there, the unfortunate result of endless humanitarian mistakes and misplaced resources. Again, though, Abt and Mehret make clear how few dissimilarities actually exist between the Ethiopian and American AIDS crises. Sexual equality is still a long way off, resources for sex education are generally funneled towards abstinence programs, and public healthcare is forever underfunded.
With domestic measures consisting literally of ABCs (the Bush Administration’s AIDS prevention doctrine: Abstinence, Being faithful, using Condoms), the battle against HIV seems stalled on the home front. The home, in fact, is where All of Us locates the root of most of its problems. With histories of childhood and sexual abuse, most HIV-positive women find their health at the mercy of African American men’s fractured psyches (absent fathers, incarcerated relatives, abusive partners, etc.).
Mehret’s positing an alternative DEF (Demystifying, Empowerment/Equality, moving Forward) preventive shorthand offers inklings of a solution that should be applied more universally. If the HIV spread that All of Us addresses is being accelerated by culture-wide problems, its solutions for the one can certainly do wonders for the others.