Interview by Iman Childs, Reel Sisters Correspondent
For her latest film, June Cross, an Emmy-award winning director, turned her attention to rural South Carolina after hearing about the large number of African-American women dying from HIV and AIDs in the state.
“There was this statistic in 2009 that was put out by the Center for Disease Control that the number one killer of African-American woman aged 16 to 34 was AIDs. I couldn’t imagine that this was so. This is the United States; it was the 21st century…how is it that people are still dying from AIDs and how is it that woman who should be having children are instead dying from AIDs? So that sent me on a quest to try to figure out what was happening.”
Wilhemina’s War centers on Wilhemina Dixon and her granddaughter Dayshal as they fight to bring AIDs awareness to their small town. June Cross followed the family for five years, along with other activists working to improve funding for healthcare programs targeted people living with HIV/AIDs. Both Wilhemina and Dayshal, who have been living with HIV since birth, face a number of challenges over the course of the film, including coping with the loss of Dayshal’s mother from the same illness.
June Cross explains what drew her to Wilhemina.
“Wilhemina’s just salt of the earth, but really really smart and yet uneducated,” Cross states. “So what really drew me to Wilhemina was her intelligence and insight; and also her insistence on survival. You know, that strong black woman thing. I am going to survive no matter what.”
Watch the complete interview to hear Cross discuss in more detail the severity of the AIDs epidemic in South Carolina, her own emotional investment in her characters, and the message she hopes audiences take away from this film.
Wilhemina’s War is the recipient of Reel Sisters Best Documentary Award 2016.
About June Cross
June Cross is a writer and documentary producer who covers the intersection of poverty, race and politics in the United States. She is a tenured professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York, where she founded a program in journalistic documentary. Her latest film, Wilhemina’s War, is about a South Carolina grandmother fighting for access to health care for her family, aired on PBS’ Independent Lens in February 2016. She is perhaps best known for a book and documentary about her own family, “Secret Daughter: the Story of a Mixed Race Child and the Mother who Gave Her Away,” which aired on Frontline in 1996. She was an Executive Producer of the six-hour PBS series, “This Far by Faith.” Cross also produced “The Old Man and the Storm,” which aired on PBS’ Frontline in 2009. She has worked for CBS News and PBS’ NewsHour. She was raised in Atlantic City, N.J., where she began her journalistic career at The Press. She lives in New York, with the jazz drummer Mike Clark.
See Wilhemina’s War at Reel Sisters! Film screens at LIU Brooklyn on Oct. 23, 2016, at 4:18 pm.