During one of my nightly Netflix searches, I came across the documentary All of Us. The 2008 film, directed by Emily Abt, follows a talented young doctor doing her residency in the South Bronx. Dr. Mehret Mandafro, the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants and a Harvard Medical School graduate, embarks on a study to understand why black females are the fastest growing group of HIV patients.
Dr. Mendafro follows two of her patients, Tracy and Cheryl, to understand how their past affected their current HIV-positive status. Unsurprisingly, she discovers a history of childhood sexual and physical abuse and exposure to drugs at an early age. Unlike other films, Dr. Mendafro is clearly friends with her patients and showcases positive events in their lives. Scenes of Cheryl’s long-awaited wedding are particularly moving.
Part of the reason I found All of Us so engrossing is Dr. Mandafro’s poise and intelligence. She opens up her own life to scrutiny and shares intimate details of her current relationship that viewers can relate to. Instead of lecturing patients about their relationship choices, she shows patience. She even admits to not always using protection in her own sexual encounters.
After giving an questionnaire to Tracy and Cheryl about the power they have in their relationships, Mandafro asks the same questions to her own peer group – privileged, educated women of all races. Surprise, they report the same lack of power as her HIV patients do.
The underlying message of All of Us is that although black women are contracting HIV at alarming rates, the uneven power balance females feel in relationships is universal. Dr. Mandafro’s commitment to helping women is inspiring. I encourage all women to watch All of Us. Too many people think HIV is something that can’t happen to them and understanding the varied reasons behind the spread of the disease is enlightening. Though learning how far women still have to go to achieve equality and respect is a little disappointing, Mandafro’s passion is infectious.