UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The epidemic of spectacles : the HIV/AIDS pandemic, visual culture and the philanthropic documentary archive of the global South Rajabi Paak, Mina


In the twenty years since the recognition of HIV/AIDS as a pandemic, the disease has become a global challenge, which is not only of medical nature, but also involves various political, social, and cultural factors. As Simon Watney once wrote, “AIDS is not only a medical crisis on an unparalleled scale, it involves a crisis of representation itself” (3). And indeed, HIV/AIDS visual culture and the politics of representation have become integral to our understanding of the meaning of the pandemic. Within the epidemic’s visual culture, AIDS documentaries stand out as one of the most prominent forms of media for narrating the pandemic and creating its global image. My thesis looks at the HIV/AIDS visual culture by documenting and analyzing the transformation of the AIDS documentary archive—both in form and focus—from the radical works of the earlier years (1980s to mid-1990s) in the West to the more conventional documentaries of the later years in and about the global South. Concentrating on this recent AIDS documentary archive concerned with the global South, I discuss how the colonial and stereotypical visuals of the pandemic in the global South find their way into the growing archive of what I call “philanthropic documentaries”: a tradition of globally-oriented documentary making that focuses on the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the global South and which is aimed at attracting financial and political aid from the outsider—mostly Western—viewers by presenting narratives and visuals that initiate effects of shock and sympathy. Yet such well-intentioned filmmaking does as much harm as good by dehumanizing its subjects and failing to show anything other than geographies of despair when it documents the pandemic. Consequently, what the thesis argues for is the need for the formation and growth of an alternative AIDS documentary archive that actively challenges and diversifies what has been established over the years as the image of the pandemic in the global South by philanthropic documentaries and other visual representations of the like, through destabilizing the normative spectacles of the pandemic, representing the excluded and marginalized narratives and, most importantly, visibilizing its own frames.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada