Dallas Buyers Club was almost a disaster of AIDS denialism

Dallas Buyers Club [Amazon] was an excellent Oscar-winning movie about Ron Woodroof, a Texas cowboy type who contracted HIV and was abandoned by his friends and family, but found new meaning helping other sufferers procure their treatments of choice in the grim early days of the AIDS crisis. The movie made some doubtful choices for the sake of drama and casting: Woodroof is inaccurately portrayed as a homophobic heterosexual, for example, and Jared Leto co-stars as a trans woman. Moreover, the subject matter inherently flirts with pseudoscience. But worse was nearly at hand. At The Atlantic, Peter Staley describes how he helped director Jean-Marc Vallée identify and remove AIDS denialist nonsense inserted by a co-writer which, in retrospect, could have doomed the film in myriad ways had it remained in the script: The Controversy Behind the Scenes of Dallas Buyers Club.

"I've met and interviewed Duesberg, along with other experts who agree with him," she yelled back. "Their story is hugely important to tell!"

Our screaming match escalated even further. Vallée looked stunned, not quite understanding what was happening.

And then the AIDS gods intervened: the Skype call went dead. Vallée called me back immediately on his cell phone. The power had gone out in his apartment. He offered to use three-way calling on his cell phone to get Wallack back on.

"No, no, no," I replied, "I never need to talk with her again. Jean-Marc, Melisa is an AIDS denialist, and she added denialism into your script, even though it was never part of Ron Woodroof's amazing life. The number-one drug that his buyers club distributed was bootleg ddC, a very similar drug to AZT. Ask Melisa why her script doesn't mention ddC. I'll tell you why: because it would destroy her denialist storyline."

I could tell he was a bit frozen at this point, not knowing enough to pass judgment either way.

One of the interesting things about AIDS denialism is that when you look under the superficially plausible surface claim—that HIV does not cause AIDS—you find underneath it an iceberg of blatant madness. Early versions of the Dallas Buyers Club script, for example, had a scene in it suggesting that poppers (inhaled alkyl nitrites) were the problem, not HIV, and the co-writer did a radio interview saying that people developed sarcomas becase gay nightclubs pumped poppers into the ventilation symptom. The mind boggles.