This article was published on March 11th, 2021
Pandemics have a sinister way of impacting marginalized communities more than the general population. The COVID19 has more than demonstrated that. However, even before this pandemic, others have ravaged the LGBTQ+ community, none more devastating than the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s.
‘It’s a Sin’ tells the stories of the people who lived through those dark times. The show unfolds through the eyes, and lives, of several young people, among them LGBTQ+ characters exploring their sexuality.
Set in 80s London, the show gives queers a necessary history lesson through the terror of the 1980s, especially around the AIDS pandemic that ravaged the gay community and how those struggles have shaped the gay community today.
‘It’s a Sin’ comes from acclaimed TV mastermind, screenwriter, and Producer Rusell T. Davies, also known for his other gay dramas such as Banana, Cucumber, Tofu, and the ground-breaking Queer as Folk. He’s also the mind behind the mainstream shows Torchwood and Years and Years.
‘It’s a Sin’
As the show opens, 18-year old Ritchie (Years and years star Olly Alexander) moves from the Isle of Wight to London in 1981. There he meets more of the cast, including Ash (Nathaniel Curtis), Roscoe (Omari Douglas), and Colin (Callum Scott Howells), and they all become roommates in London’s Streatham neighbourhood.
Jill (Lydia West) soon joins the young chosen family, and the group nicknames their flat, The Pink Place.
In just five episodes, 45 minutes each, the show explores the connections among this group of young people and the strains the AIDS pandemic puts on their lives. Each episode delves into a different year between 1981 and 1991 as the pandemic unfolds.
‘It’s a Sin’ sheds light on the undertones in the current pandemic. From discrimination to hate, the show tells it as it is without sugarcoating or romanticizing issues.
A tale of two pandemics
The COVID19 has brought a rise in discrimination and hate crimes. For instance, there has been a marked rise in Asian-American hate, which should be condemned in the strongest words possible.
As a parallel in the show, Ritchie, one of the main stars, naively assigns blame for the virus to foreigners. In one scene, he tells a love interest, “Don’t be so stupid, it’s Americans you don’t sleep with, not Londoners… Americans! There’s nothing wrong with boys from London!”
The show exposes some of the issues we’ve witnessed in the current pandemic, including isolation, discrimination, and the loneliness that has crushed members of the LGBTQ+ community.
People living with HIV/AIDS in the ’80s were abandoned, isolated, and even hidden by families who were too ashamed to face society. Indeed, under the UK’s Public health Act of 1984, the government could forcefully quarantine people with HIV to prevent them from infecting others, something most people have come to taste, albeit in mild doses during the current pandemic.
Not over yet
Despite the advancements in science and a better understanding of the human psyche, issues dealt with in the show persist today. Homophobia, discrimination, and hate are still much rife today.
In fact, recent statistics indicate that trans people, especially trans people of color, have borne the brunt of these despicable acts. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 27% of trans people have been fired, denied jobs and promotions because of the sexual or gender identity.
A further 54% have experienced some form of intimate partner violence, not to mention the violence or harassment meted out on the streets.
‘It’s a Sin’ is not just a story of the AIDS pandemic and the impact on the LGBTQ+ community; it’s also a story of our modern times. It transcends time and space to bring lessons for the current pandemic in a story that must be told repeatedly.
The show shines a spotlight on the lives lost to the AIDS pandemic, their memories, legacies, and lost aspirations while acting as a plea for kindness, compassion, and community during this new pandemic.
AIDS is real, and so is COVID19. No amount of denial changes that. ‘It’s a Sin’ drives home that message in a gut-wrenching, binge-weep that’ll leave you crushed and yet enlightened and wiser.
One of the saddest and most heartbreaking sentences in the series is this: “I could have been anything, but I never will.” Keep that in mind as you practice safety from both COVID and HIV.