Image Credit: Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features
Last night we had the chance to preview the astonishing and inspiring new movie, Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. It’s the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas rodeo rider and electrician who tested positive in 1986, and went on to fight the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies, searching for alternative treatments throughout the world and setting up a buyers’ club to make these alternatives available to others with HIV/AIDS.
We were astonished by the movie because, having labored for a decade (or two decades, for some of us at NYBC) in the field of buyers’ clubs for people with HIV, we weren’t prepared to think of our work as material for a Hollywood production. If you looked at the NYBC probiotics that have helped people keep their digestive systems functioning thru years of taking HIV meds, or the MAC-Pack that has helped HIV+ people keep up CD4 counts, or supplements that have helped support liver function–it didn’t all add up, in our minds, to a Hollywood movie starring Matthew McConaughey!
We do want to give credit to the movie’s creators for doing an excellent job in depicting that moment, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when people with HIV decided to fight a slow-moving, closed-minded FDA that was blocking access to alternative treatments and even to some of the early HIV meds that were becoming available elsewhere in the world.
We particularly liked the early scene in Dallas Buyers Club, when the Ron Woodroof/Matthew McConaughey character, who’s been told by a Dallas hospital doctor that he has 30 days to live, drives down to Mexico, and finds an off-the-grid AIDS clinic run by a American doctor who’s had his license revoked. At that point, Ron Woodroof looks in pretty bad shape, and the clinic doctor tells him that first of all he needs to start taking a “multivitamin with zinc, plus some essential fatty acids.” That’s the starting point for Ron’s new treatment quest, which discards the side effect-ridden AZT being pushed by Pharma and mainstream doctors, and scans the world for alternatives. (The Mexican clinic is also importing DDC, an early line HIV med from France, not approved at the time in the USA.)
There’s a lot going on in Dallas Buyers Club: the homophobic Ron Woodroof undergoes a big change of heart as he sets up the buyers’ club with help from the drag queen played by Jared Leto. At one point you’ll catch a glimpse of a TV news story about ACT-UP storming the FDA to protest the glacial pace of HIV med trials. You’ll also see a fight in a supermarket over whether to buy the typical American junk foods, or some real nutrition. And there’s quite a bit of money changing hands as the buyers’ club takes off (the Dallas Buyers Club was NOT a nonprofit, unlike NYBC!). And we should advise that some of the drugs that Ron Woodroof imported for his buyers’ club were promising starts, while others today we’d have to dismiss. In the end, though, we’ll take Dallas Buyers Club for what it’s meant to be: an inspiring tale about how buyers’ clubs brought treatment alternatives to people with HIV/AIDS, even when that quest ran against most of the conventional medical wisdom. And we’d add that while the treatments have certainly changed over the years, we at NYBC still identify with the need for treatment alternatives, and still don’t want to settle for just the conventional medical wisdom.
So—come on down and visit us at http://www.newyorkbuyersclub.org/. We do recommend that you see the movie, too, when it opens on November 1. And if you support any or all of our convictions about the importance of buyers’ clubs for people with HIV, why not make a donation to NYBC at