It’s a Sin would have been an essential viewing no matter when it aired, but it feels more relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for It’s a sin, now broadcasting on HBO Max.
No one involved in the production of It’s a sinRussell T. Davies’s miniseries about a group of young queer adults who grappled with the AIDS epidemic in England in the 1980s, may have known that the series would end up being released in the midst of a global pandemic. This excellent show would have been essential to watch no matter when it aired, but circumstances make it all the more relevant as a tragic and terrifying examination of how far some people will go to deny the reality of a disease.
Obviously, there are big differences between the AIDS crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. It took doctors years to understand how HIV worked and even longer to convince the heterosexual, cisgender population to care about a disease that primarily affected the LGBTQ community. Rather, it only took a few months for the whole world to become concerned about COVID-19, and scientific understanding has progressed so rapidly that vaccines already exist.
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Even understanding these differences, one cannot look It’s a sin Episode 2, in which Ritchie Tozer (played by Olly Alexander) monologues about how he doesn’t even believe AIDS exists, without remembering all the conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. As the series progresses and the decade progresses, Ritchie is forced to abandon his initial conspiracy theories, but he still operates on various levels of denial. He refuses to use condoms (reminiscent of those who today refuse to wear masks in public), and even after testing positive for the virus, he continues to have unprotected sex and infect other men.
What motivates Ritchie to deny reality up to this point? On one level, it is selfish. He has had a great time with his free and partying lifestyle and does not want to make any changes, even if it could save his life and the lives of others. The first episode, set in 1981 when AIDS was first diagnosed in the UK, is such a vibrant celebration / eulogy for what London’s queer community lost, that you understand (but don’t sympathize) with what it is holding on to. Ritchie. His early conspiracy theories dismissed all talk about AIDS as a form of homophobia, aimed at preventing gay men from having sex.
At the same time, however, Ritchie is as self-deprecating as he is selfish. While he dismisses the existence of AIDS as a homophobic conspiracy, he somehow has no problem with real homophobia of right-wing politicians. When Ash Mukherjee (Nathaniel Curtis) is forced to censor any remotely gay-friendly book from a school library under Section 28 law of 1988, Ritchie defends his support for Margaret Thatcher by trying to argue with children. should not being exposed to gay people. As with many conspiracy theorists today, politics has led him to oppose things that would be in his own interest.
It’s a sinThe final episode makes it clear that the depths of Ritchie’s denial and self-loathing come from his homophobic mother, who is somehow even in plus denial of reality. When her son finally tells her he is gay, she denies it. When he tells her he has AIDS, she doesn’t believe him. She takes him out of a hospital where he could have received better care so that she can take care of him in her own home, pretending that he will get better and taking him away from his friends.
Times may change, but the darkest aspects of human nature have not disappeared. We could understand the coronavirus pandemic today better than people understood AIDS at the beginning of the crisis, but no matter what the situation, some people will find any excuse to deny reality. Ritchie’s story in It’s a sin It would have been tragic no matter when the show aired, but it’s downright terrifying for how relevant it is today.
Written and Created by Russell T. Davies, It’s a sin stars Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West, and Nathaniel Curtis. The entire series airs on HBO Max.
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