When the AIDS epidemic first began, nobody had any concrete information. The government was spreading rumours and hearsay, harsh, cruel lies about queer men and sex workers. Banks and real estate agents would ask if you’re gay on sign-up forms, hospitals would ask if you’d slept with an animal. Families, ashamed of their sons catching the virus, and, in fear of not knowing how it spreads, would burn all of their belongings. No matter how you look at it, it was ugly.
But, the people who lived through this ugly period that are often not talked about? The people who survived and carried out their days without their best friends by their side, even now - like Jill, played by Lydia West.
By the end of the series, Jill watches several of her friends die before her. When Ritchie catches the virus and it develops into AIDS, his mum takes him in and, wrongly blaming his friends, doesn’t let anyone see him - not even Jill, his best friend since university.
“[Director] Russell [T. Davis] has mentioned in previous interviews, we stopped at five but there could have been 100 episodes,” Lydia reveals to WHO.
“A lot of allies and women at that time did face a lot of the things that the actual victims faced.
“There were a number of lesbian nurses that would treat AIDS patients because no other nurse would touch them. It baffles me that that actually happened.
“I think it's important just to pay homage also to the allies that kind of go through the same stigma that the actual victims face, and I think that’s what Jill is there to represent, she's the heartbeat in the show.”
The importance of remembering the AIDS crisis
While It’s A Sin premiered as the world was plunged into a global pandemic, the cast actually finished filming weeks before the outbreak spread into western countries. Watching it now, it’s hard not to see similarities between the two and the way people were spreading misinformation and acting on fear and conspiracies.
But, where global organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and local government began to roll out an active vaccine within six months of the COVID-19 virus to a mass community, “from the first case diagnosis [of HIV], it took four to six years before any kind of medical drug trials.”
“I think people think that in our generation, this[, COVID-19,] is the first pandemic but it’s absolutely not,” Lydia clarifies.
“People will go back to the Spanish Flu before they referenced the AIDS pandemic in relation to Coronavirus, and it’s very important to note how starkly different these pandemics are and the government’s response.
Lydia adds: “It’s very timely that it's coming out [during a pandemic], and while we're in a global health crisis, but the only real thing they have in common is that they are both global pandemics.
“The way they were treated, and the virus is absolutely very different. There are some similarities with the way that the kind of misinformation was spread and the way that even the kids like Jill were putting on gloves to touch with because they were scared to touch. Things like that scaremongering that the government kind of produced during the time is still to this day, but no, it's something we didn't know when we were filming.”
It’s A Sin is available to binge - with a box of tissues - on Stan.