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Sarah Unruh ’12

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Film explores stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The annual film series sponsored by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, located at Bethel College, kicks off Sept. 21 with a provocative documentary on the battle against HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Miss HIV, a feature-length (88 minutes) documentary screens at 3 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center. The event is free, with donations accepted to support the film series and the work of KIPCOR.

After the film, Martin Wilson, HIV/AIDS prevention coordinator at Positive Directions, the primary HIV/AIDS non-profit in Wichita, will lead a talk-back and discussion session. Convocation credit for Bethel students is available for this event.

Ethnographic Media released Miss HIV in mid-2008. It was written and directed by Jim Hanon, best known for the feature film End of the Spear and its documentary counterpart Beyond the Gates of Splendor.

Ethnographic Media is the same company that released Little Town of Bethlehem, the first-ever KIPCOR Film Series film, screened in fall 2010 and well-received by the Bethel viewing audience.

The title Miss HIV comes from a beauty pageant of the same name that took place in Botswana – organized to showcase attractive, healthy-looking women who are also HIV-positive in order to help eradicate stigma and raise awareness.

The film follows two of these women, Elizabeth Romolale and Gaelebale Thabang, on their journey to the Miss HIV catwalk, placing viewers in the midst of their lives and their families.

Interwoven throughout is footage from the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto (speakers included Bill and Melinda Gates and former U.S. President Bill Clinton); interviews with various experts and activists; and intimate snapshots of life in sub-Saharan Africa, where the world’s HIV epidemic is most concentrated.

Miss HIV contrasts what is happening in Botswana, where half of all pregnant women are HIV positive, with the past successes of Uganda, which has experienced one of the largest reductions in HIV infections ever recorded.

The documentary brings into the open the little-known struggle for dominance over AIDS education and prevention, exposing “the heated rhetoric, high stakes and the heavy toll this battle has taken.”

Miss HIV also explores innovative strategies to counteract one of the largest obstacles in the battle against HIV: the stigma (paralyzing shame) that results from this disease.

In addition to prominently featuring women in Botswana participating in a stigma-free beauty pageant, Miss HIV presents Ugandan college students fighting the stigma of their choice to remain sexually abstinent and gay rights activists at the Toronto AIDS conference combating stigmatization.

Miss HIV serves to shine a spotlight on the competing agendas that complicate an already complex global crisis.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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