Dallas Buyers Club has been haunting me since I saw a preview of it several weeks ago.
The film was mainly shot in New Orleans, but for anyone from Dallas, it seems to take place in an alternate universe. That scene where Ron Woodroof is working in a Dallas oil field? Where the hell is that?
Another distracting discrepancy in the movie is the placement of a highway that crosses Cedar Springs Road. And if that weren’t enough, the first time someone called Parkland “Mercy Hospital”, I wasn’t the only one in the audience who laughed.
The visuals weren’t the only things that bothered me. The script depicted Woodroof as homophobic. He wasn’t. That piece works in the story. One week he’s taunting gays, but the next week, after he’s diagnosed with AIDS, he’s the one being taunted for having the “gay cancer.”
That sort of thing did happen — often. Parents rejected sons once they were diagnosed with AIDS. Doctors refused to treat patients, and hospitals virtually quarantined anyone with HIV.
Baylor Hospital had an AIDS floor that was mostly staffed by fabulous, caring, compassionate lesbian nurses. I could do a separate story on their heroics and the horrible way the hospital treated them.
Parkland hospital also had an AIDS floor. Until we (the gay community) sued them, I don’t know if you would actually say the floor was staffed. And that’s why the name is changed to the ironic Mercy Hospital. Who needs the lawsuit?
But Ron wasn’t homophobic. I think he wouldn’t mind the portrayal, though, because it works well in the story. An AIDS diagnosis too often meant horrible treatment by family, friends, church and even doctors. Ron would have loved the notoriety — he’d love his portrayal as someone who went up against the government and won.
Here’s what the film got absolutely right. In Dallas, we didn’t care what the hell the FDA or any other government agency said. We were going to do everything we could to take care of our friends, and no other city did it the way we did. No one was as strident in our protests or as underhanded in getting unapproved treatments.
At Nelson Tebedo, we were administering Pentamadine mist that was preventing pneumocystis, a deadly form of pneumonia that was killing a lot of people. At an AIDS hospice and a housing program, exorbitantly expensive drugs were collected after people died and redistributed to others who couldn’t afford medication. Bill Hunt, who worked at a certain food pantry on Cedar Springs, did the same thing there. All totally illegal and all done with the same “fuck you” attitude. We were going to do what we could to help save our friends’ lives because no one else was helping us do it.
Mary Franklin, who ran the Resource Center Food Pantry for years, worked at the Dallas Buyers Club for six months. The part of the intake coordinator is played by a black actress playing a composite character that includes Franklin.
Franklin described Woodroof as very protective. He’d tell her to stay home on days he or other drug mules were delivering medication from Mexico. He kept her out of the back room where the drugs were kept.
She said the characterization of him dressing as a priest to bring drugs across the border was accurate, but in some ways he was even more renegade than that. Eventually, he purchased a speed boat and brought his cargo into the country across the Gulf of Mexico, avoiding border crossings. That story isn’t mentioned in the film.
Since every film like this needs an antagonist, the FDA agent is it. That same agent catches Ron on the border, in Dallas and in between. In reality, the FDA actually was pretty much looking the other way.
One person who worked at Nelson Tebedo at the time and is still working for an HIV/AIDS agency said during one FDA inspection, an agent found some empty pill bottles. He explained they were for demonstration purposes only. He got away with it and only had to dispose of the bottles. Someone who still works at another agency said collected drugs were locked in a drawer during one FDA inspection. That agent looked everywhere else, but never asked to see inside the drawer.
Also, AIDS doctors in Dallas were not looking on passively as their patients took unapproved drugs. Dr. Steven Pounders (portrayed in the film by Jennifer Garner — and he never looked better) said patients brought medications they received at the Dallas Buyers Club to him to administer and monitor. As the film ends, Garner walks out of Parkland, I mean Mercy, hospital to begin her own practice and seems as if she’s planning to do just what Pounders did.
When I left the theater, the creation of an alternate-universe Dallas where homophobic Ron lived bothered me. Two weeks later, however, I want to see the film again. The story of my friends desperately trying to save my friends is still haunting me.