A Resonant Ode to Hope – Doin’ My Drugs (2019) Review

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Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors in da house.

Doin’ My Drugs (2019): 7 out of 10: tells the compelling story of Thomas Muchimba Buttenschøn, a Zambian-Danish musician born with HIV. The film chronicles his life as he navigates the complexities of living with a life-threatening illness and how he leverages his musical talents to spark change in the HIV/AIDS conversation. This documentary takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions, striking a perfect balance between the somber realities of the disease when untreated and the uplifting power of music and hope.

The Good

The juxtaposition of the vibrant landscapes of Zambia with the intimate moments of Thomas’ life creates a visceral experience that transports the viewer into the heart of the story. The films cinematography is more cinéma vérité than shiny Netflix, giving the audience a taste of the world that shaped Thomas and his music. Doin’ My Drugs certainly made me want to visit Zambia. (Good News only $1600 round trip. Bad news thirty freakin hours.)

The HIV education mission

In November 2017 Dr. Max Pemberton penned an article in The British magazine The Spectator titled “As a doctor, I’d rather have HIV than diabetes”. It did not go over well with many. But at the time, it was hard to argue with his main point. An HIV diagnosis in Britain barely changes your life expectancy. You can easily live with HIV. Diabetes, on the other hand…

“the prognosis for those with type 2 diabetes is much worse than for those with HIV. The risk of stroke in newly treated type 2 diabetes is more than double that of the general population. People with diabetes are four times more likely to have cardiovascular disease than someone without diabetes. In 20 to 30 per cent of people with diabetes, there’s damage to the kidney filtering system leading to kidney failure and the need for dialysis. Damage to the delicate vessels in the eye is a leading cause of blindness and damage to nerves is a leading cause of foot wounds and ulcers, which frequently lead to foot and leg amputations. For those with HIV, providing they take their medication, there are very few problems.”

What turned out to be boldly contrarian in 2017 is six years later a little less controversial. People are more used to H.I.V. medicine ads on their television. Still, the memory of HIV being a deadly disease is so ingrained into older generations that there is still an initial wince and disbelief before we allow facts to seep in.

Add in political reasons to keep H.I.V. the bogeyman it legitimately was in the past. Many H.I.V. activists and charities depend on the disease being deadly for fundraising. On the other side many religious groups depend on the disease being deadly to prove God punishes sinners. So when you propose tilting the victimhood scale, a lot of ingrained interests will immediately raise their hackles. (See anti-smoking campaigns reaction to vaping, for example).

But while this new reality, despite science and time, still surprises in modern Europe, it is absolutely shocking in Zambia. What Thomas Muchimba Buttenschøn does that is magical is he goes back to Zambia and tells people I am over thirty, I was born HIV positive, and I live a normal life with a wife and two kids (all negative) because I take these medications. Medications that the government of Zambia provides for its own citizens for free if they would get over their fear and get tested.

The emotional crux of Doin’ My Drugs lies in Thomas’ unwavering determination to make a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS. The film documents his inspiring journey as he partners with the Zambian government and NGOs to offer free concerts where HIV testing is provided, sparking a wave of change and raising awareness of the disease. His resilience and passion are infectious, leaving audiences with a sense of hope and admiration for the power of the human spirit.

The Bad

The Bad: With a baby face, a soft body, a nose ring, and hair like Sideshow Bob, it’s hard to take Thomas Muchimba Buttenschøn seriously in the first fifteen minutes or so of Doin’ My Drugs.

Everyone around him seems more real. Everyone seems to be a better musician, have more charisma, have a harder life. I know a lot of documentaries suffer from main character syndrome. (cough Confronting a Serial Killer cough) this is probably the first documentary I’ve seen in a long time where it suffers from not main character syndrome. 

A lot of the conversations in the movie are the kind of conversations you’d have with a buddy at about 2:00 in the morning after you’ve been smoking pot all day long. You know, a lot of “music is the window to the soul.” “We just need to get people talking.” “If we can get people talking, we can change the world.’ That kind of conversation. 

The Ugly

The Ugly: Why the hell wouldn’t you show the concert? I mean it would be the normal way to end the movie yes? You don’t have to show the whole thing. (No one is looking for a repeat of Grizzly II: Revenge.) Maybe just a couple of songs with some shots of the audience having a good time. I mean you kind of show it a little over the credits but dude, really?

Not the documentaries fault but the Christian preacher blaming wives for being ugly and frigid as the reason the men catch HIV from prostitutes is a jaw dropper.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: There’s a pleasantness here in Doin’ My Drugs that is hard to get over. Basically here’s a guy telling people things that they honestly need to hear and they didn’t know. The big concert is actually a well thought out idea. They’re going to have the concert for free, but you have to be tested for HIV before you get in. That makes sense. I never ever got the sense that Thomas Muchimba Buttenschøn was doing this to feed his own ego or pockets. He seemed to just be a giving person. And that is someone I don’t mind spending ninety minutes with.

In retrospect maybe having your church preaching wives have more sex with their husbands isn’t a bad idea after all. In fact it might help attendance.
Same-sex sexual activity is illegal for both males and females in Zambia. As a documentary filmmaker you might want to take that in consideration while shooting B roll.
What I do want to see is a documentary about Albino activist and R & B singer John Chiti. He has the chops and his story was very interesting.
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