Movies in Brief: ‘All of Us’

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The documentary “All of Us” follows a young doctor doing her residency in the South Bronx and working with predominantly black female AIDS patients. It would be easy to haul a preconceived notion into the theater of what this film is going to be about, but prepare to be surprised and enlightened. As the title aptly suggests, this is a film and subject matter that concerns just about everyone.

Documentary films tackling political or social subjects too often take on an activist slant that ultimately slides into agitprop. Many of them, such as the recent parade of war documentaries, pander to the political predispositions and tastes of a built-in audience: the presumably educated, left-leaning, upper middle class that frequents art-house theaters. In the end, these movies accomplish little more than sending viewers off feeling vindicated. “All of Us” isn’t one of these movies.

The film, which opens Friday at Cinema Village, does not put its activist physician on a soapbox or a pedestal. In fact, Dr. Mehret Mandefro admits that she doesn’t always practice what she preaches, namely safe sex. The director, Emily Abt, doesn’t portray her as a saint, but isn’t out to expose her as a hypocrite, either. The fact that the two women are old friends doesn’t at all compromise the film’s objectivity. Instead, it makes the interviews seem very candid. Through the travails of Dr. Mandefro’s own love life, moviegoers glean how an intelligent, beautiful woman is not immune from mistaking infatuation for love, and in turn risking her heart and her health.

“All of Us” features two of Dr. Mandefro’s patients as case studies. Chevelle Wilson, who was a teenage runaway and drug addict, is preparing to take the GED so she can become self-sufficient and work as an educator for a nonprofit organization. Tara Stanley suffered sexual abuse and earned her living as a sex worker, and is now battling cervical cancer in addition to AIDS. Dr. Mandefro sees a parallel between herself and her patients, one of low self-esteem leading to risky behavior. Although she initially assumes this phenomenon is prevalent mostly among underprivileged black women, she will soon learn that it cuts across all boundaries of race and socioeconomics.

If anything, Dr. Mandefro’s message is that “control” is the operative word. She believes that women should take a stand rather than give in to their partners for fear of infidelity, rejection, or abandonment. This may seem like a no-brainer, but “All of Us” doesn’t patronize its viewers. The film is a stark eye-opener, and can prompt a frank and all-too-needed discussion on an awkward topic that happens to be a matter of life and death.

The New York Sun

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