Time Out: The Truth About HIV, AIDS and You is the kind of video that the federal government would be making if it genuinely cared about preventing AIDS among teenagers. But the reason the government never would make such a tape — at least under the current administration — is precisely why this video is such a valuable contribution to the fight against AIDS. Hosted by the laid-back duo of Magic Johnson and Arsenio Hall, Time Out offers a refreshingly blunt examination of the most crucial issues facing young people in the age of AIDS.
The 42-minute made-for-video release could not be more timely. In the last three years, the number of Americans ages 13 to 24 diagnosed with AIDS leapt 77 percent. AIDS is now the sixth-leading cause of death among Americans between 15 and 24. For inner-city youth the dangers are even more pronounced, given the lethal intersection of intravenous drug use and heterosexual transmission of the virus in those neighborhoods.
The tape is clearly crafted to reach those very youths (it features a panoply of African-American and Latino entertainers while still being accessible to viewers of all backgrounds). The danger of trying to reach such a broad audience is that the message might end up being homogenized into platitudinous pap. But the sheer force of the video’s candor and inventive direction (by Malcolm-Jamal Warner, late of Cosby) enables Time Out to escape this fate.
Every tough issue attending the HIV epidemic is confronted honestly. Gay teenagers — both male and female — tell their stories, as do HIV-positive heterosexual teens; young people weigh their decisions whether or not to be tested. Imaginative, down-to-earth, and sometimes humorous segments bring the problems home. Sinbad plays a talking condom. In a dramatization, Jasmine Guy demands that her boyfriend wear a condom — and stands her ground when he refuses.
Splashy segues, quick exits, and hand-held cameras produce a feeling of verite and give the video a breezy pace. And a roster of youth icons — including Luke Perry, Tom Cruise, and Pauly Shore — deliver admonitions that are mercifully brief, so the tape never gets overly preachy. Yes, Time Out promotes abstinence — Jaleel ”Urkel” White sings a rap song with the chorus ”I’m not ready for the wild thing” — but only after it presents an extensive discussion of safe sex, including a demonstration of how to put on a condom. The tape even gets political: In a dig at President Bush’s lackadaisical posture toward AIDS, Mayim ”Blossom” Bialik says, ”We can demand that politicians talk about (AIDS) — or they don’t get our votes.”
Arsenio Hall Communications and Paramount deserve one of those Arsenio audience whoops for producing the tape as a not-for-profit venture and pricing it affordably for its target audience. Still, it is a tragic statement of our times that such plain-talking AIDS education comes from private sources and not from federal agencies, which seem more worried about protecting the sensibilities of the religious right than about saving lives. (Already, the tape has reportedly been rejected by L.A. schools and major retail chain Wal-Mart.) A good way to launch a national AIDS-awareness campaign would be to make every teen sit down and watch Time Out. We could do a lot worse — in fact, for the past decade, we already have. A