25 To Life: In New Film, Man With AIDS Confesses Unprotected Past
1 year ago
Infected as a child, William Brawner practiced unsafe sex at Howard University
Howard University campus heartthrob William “Reds” Brawner was a hot commodity. His former roommate and friend Mike Brown recalls an incident from their junior year.
“I didn’t know that Reds had a female guest in his room when another girl showed up unannounced,” says Brown, who was left to answer the door. “Will liked the girls and the girls liked Will,” Brown says with a chuckle. They were young men in their college prime. This was a simpler time.
That simplicity for Brown and for so many others was lost in the summer of 2006, when Brawner began to tell the world that he had AIDS. It was a secret kept from everyone at Howard, including his sex partners.
Everyone in their social circle seems to remember how they learned of his status and how it seemed like yesterday: Brown's call came from a friend who lived in Baltimore who learned that Brawner was going to be featured in ESSENCE magazine.
“She asked me,’What’s Reds’ real name?’” Brown, then a film student at NYU, told Loop 21. “Then when I told her, she said, ‘Reds has AIDS.’ I was just so shocked he was carrying this secret. I knew him as the William Brawner that everyone else knew on campus. He was this gregarious, outgoing ladies man."
Quickly, Brown knew he wanted to help share his friend's story. There had to be reason to hold so much in for so long. It would take five years and countless hours of filming to help capture Brawner’s story and on World AIDS Day in New York City, Brawner, Brown and producer Yvonne M. Shirley will show an extended trailer of 25 to LIFE, a documentary based on Brawner’s journey.
Honest and raw, the film lays bare agony of the events surrounding Brawner’s diagnosis as a toddler -- and his decision to disclose his status as an adult.
“We try not to villify him, and at the same time we don’t want to make him a martyr, either,” Brown says of his treatment of Brawner in 25 to LIFE. “This is not some type of an apology piece. We just tried to present a piece where viewers can answer some of the tough questions about Will’s life within themselves. And I think it kind of humanizes the experience of being HIV positive or having AIDS. You will wish that Will made some better choices. And seeing him work through some of these issues, you’ll feel for him, too.
Details of the accident that forever changed the Brawners’ lives are murky; even the exact date is unknown. This much is known: Linda Brawner was a senior at Howard and working full-time when William was 18 months old. The young mother got a call that William had been badly burned from scalding hot water. She rushed to the hospital and during the course of a skin grafting procedure, doctors gave William a blood transfusion. The year was 1981.