DOIN’ MY DRUGS RELEASING ON WORLD AIDS DAY DECEMBER 1ST ON iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, DirecTV, On-Demand, YouTube Movies, Vudu, Xbox, & FandangoNOW
Reviewed by Simone Cromers: Zambian and Danish pop star Thomas Muchimba Buttenschøn shines as a beacon of hope for AIDS activism in the documentary, Doin’ My Drugs, the directorial debut of filmmaker Tyler Q. Rosen (writer and producer). So many films and documentaries have been made on the topic of living with being HIV+, but Doin’ My Drugs introduces a native son of Zambia who was born with AIDS and who has a mission to educate the people of his mother’s home country about the importance of HIV testing, prevention, and surviving to live a fulfilling life being HIV+.
Thomas is introduced to a broader audience in Doin’ My Drugs as a happy and healthy 30-something husband, father, and celebrated Danish pop star. Diagnosed with AIDS as a baby the family emigrated to Denmark for treatment. Unfortunately, he lost both his parents to AIDS father before he was 10 years. At the age of 13, Thomas became deathly ill himself but the antiretroviral(ARV) treatment gave him a new lease on life. Upon regaining his health he threw himself into music, and at 20, became a Danish pop star.
In the ’90s film footage of his father, after his wife dies, his Dad speaks about the fear he has for his son’s future being born with AIDS. As fate would have it because the family moved to Denmark when Thomas was only a year old, After emigrating to Denmark with his family for treatment, Thomas lost both of his parents to AIDs at the age of nine and became deathly ill himself at 13. Upon regaining his health after beginning antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, he threw himself into music, and at 20, became a Danish pop star.
It was the healthcare system and innovative AIDS research that has given Thomas the opportunity to thrive as a person of HIV+ status. But he realizes that as lucky as he is to benefit from cutting edge research, millions of people in Zambia continue to be misinformed about HIV, and their rigid beliefs and stigmas block proper education about AIDS.
With music being the universal language for all cultures, Thomas is on a mission to sing songs of optimism, hope, and education to the people of Zambia to help end deeply embedded cultural ignorance about AIDS/HIV and testing. Tyler chronicles Thomas’s journey as he conducts one on one singing sessions and discussions with a variety of local musician activists as they explore the myriad reasons why Zambians are fearful of getting tested, and how musicians can foster better understanding and protection against AIDS/HIV. Using their voice for the voiceless Zambian artists like Flow and John Chiti want to help the people think for themselves.
John Chiti is a hugely popular Zambian musician and activist. The first albino to break through as a leading recording artist, John uses his music to shatter the ignorance, prejudice, and violence persecuted against albinos. Incredibly, many Africans believe that albino body parts can yield riches and magical healing powers. Because of this, they are routinely hunted and killed for their body parts.
A groundbreaking Zambian rapper is known for his “flow”, Brian Bwembya is a passionate advocate for women’s rights. His album “Voiceless Woman” brought national attention to the growing domestic violence problem in Zambia. “Woman” garnered two Zambian Music Awards.
In a poignant moment which demonstrates the stunted education of most Zambians, Thomas speaks with several young people in line for testing and he explains that he was born with AIDS over 30 years ago, and he has been taking medicine which has allowed him to live a productive life, get married and have kids, and no one in his family has AIDS. The incredulous and shocking looks on their faces tell the tale of how the government and the religious institutions of Zambia have failed the people in not sharing 21st Century medical news about how to live with HIV, happily and with a long life. This key moment in the film highlights what director Rosen and Thomas are doing by making Doin’ My Drugs serve as a much needed Public Service Announcement film.
Thomas’ dedication to educating Zambians culminates into a ‘testing for tickets’ concert event in 2015, Zed Me Free. Songwriters shared the stage in which 10,000 people attended after getting an AIDS test and a free ticket to the event. The positive effects of the work from this documentary shared images of unprecedented levels of participation in getting testing, which ultimately will have a positive impact on the health of Zambia’s society.
With precise and lively storytelling of Thomas’ life back in Denmark, and his mother’s family in Zambia, Rosen curates an intimate portrait of a man, who although cannot remember his parents, is driven to honor their memories by saving as many lives as he can through education with his rhythmic acoustic music and inspirational words.
The film is executive produced by longtime HIV/AIDS activist Jake Glaser of The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. EGPAF seeks to end global pediatric HIV/AIDS through prevention and treatment programs, research, and advocacy. Released by Freestyle Digital Media, the film distribution division of Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios.