MTV goddess shines light on a brutally neglected AIDS-afflicted country

Madonna with children of Malawi: "I Am Because We Are’" airs on Monday, World AIDS Day.

On Monday, the Sundance Channel airs "I Am Because We Are," a documentary about the country where Madonna adopted David Banda, the now three-year-old Malawian boy, whose mother reportedly died from AIDS-related complications.

The queen of music video delivers a program that’s painfully heartbreaking. Although she narrates some of the film, Madonna mostly steps out of the way and introduces us to Malawi, an extremely poor, landlocked country in southeastern Africa where many of its children are orphaned by AIDS.

Life is more enjoyable when you don’t have to think about places like Malawi.
A few years ago, a businesswoman, who knew Madonna through a mutual friend, told the pop star her native homeland was in a state of emergency. She told Madonna, "You’re a person with resources. People pay attention to what you say and do."

Madonna told her she didn’t know where Malawi was. The woman told her to look it up on map. And then she hung up on the pop star.

With camera crews, Madonna explores the country and its orphanages. Death is everywhere. So many young kids are already without parents, but they are burdened with the seemingly impossible task of caring for other infants.

The more Madonna investigates, the more horror she uncovers.

If you thought by now that everyone got the memo on how HIV is spread, you haven’t heard the insane theories that African medicine men have dreamed up — for a man to cure himself of AIDS and other STDs, he needs to have penetrative sex with a virgin.

In this ever-depressing milieu, Madonna offers some glimmers of hope. She’s blown away by how these children have managed to retain their intrinsic happiness. When Madonna was six years old, she lost her mom to breast cancer. She can’t fathom how the Malawian children are able to still have fun. But miraculously, they’ve found the will to survive.

"I Am Because We Are" is nothing like a feel-good Joan Crawford publicity stunt. It’s overwhelmingly tragic. And if Madonna never filmed this documentary or adopted little David, everyone would just continue ignoring a country in desperate need of help.

— Daniel A. Kusner

Grade: B

Airs Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. on the Sundance Channel.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 28, 2008.
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