Well, if you visit the Kenyan blogs or any Kenyan social networking site, no doubt you've heard the hype that's MTV Ignite's "Shuga"...a public service announcement about HIV transmission that stresses the importance of knowing one's status in a creative, subtle way that's not preachy, condemning, etc. I can see why this...movie? mini-series? (still not sure what it is)...has garnered such attention in Kenya. Before I continue, here's some housekeeping disclaimers and a link to Jmmk's post with links to the "Shuga" episodes.
For starters, I'm a certified HIV test counselor, so I've seen it all and heard it all. The lens through which I view HIV is from a public health perspective, and I always try not to let my personal bias enter the picture (in true Kenyan cultural upbringing, I am socially conservative).
Ok, now on to this movie/mini-series. The one word I would use to describe it is "SURPRISING". This spoken by someone whose vivid memories of the social scene in Kenya include women being stripped on the streets of Nairobi for wearing short skirts; and who can forget the warning "This program is unsuitable for children under 18" every time The Bold and The Beautiful came on! So of course for me, seeing a chick in a short dress boarding a matatu, and close ups of people kissing, and even Ayira's underwear clad body was surprising to me. Evidently, a lot has changed about what's socially acceptable in Kenya. Which leaves me wondering if this was airing during prime time and if the kiddos watched it with their parents (kissing scenes were usually the cue to change the channel).
My constant question as I watched Shuga was "how realistic is this movie?" On one score, I think it's very realistic, but on another score, I think not.
Realistic: If you're familiar with any Kenyan party scene, then you've probably witnessed all the characters portrayed in the movie. The all-night raving, the over indulgence of alcohol, the showing off of cars, the virgin that's always being pressured but wants to do the "right" thing, etc. Whether in Kenya or abroad, I think Shuga did a good job in portraying how Kenyans party in general. Even the portrayal of the sleeping around for monetary reasons is realistic, we all know such characters.
Unrealistic: There's the finer details of testing itself, i.e. if you have unprotected sex with an HIV+ person, it takes 3-6 months to get an accurate result. So, even if Violet tested negative and Skola positive, it was too soon for her to be celebrating her negative status. I am yet to meet a single Kenyan that has not been touched by HIV, be it a family member or friend. How many of those HIV+ people close to you freely talked about their status? How did society treat them and talk about them? How did you personally feel? The theme of "acceptance" that's portrayed in Shuga is rather unrealistic. Put yourself in Ty's shoes: you've been steadily dating someone and are even ready to get married. Then you discover they've been cheating on you with an HIV+ person and put you at great risk. My guess is that it will take a long time for you to get over the initial anger. And for many people, cheating is a huge deal breaker, HIV+ or not.
Perhaps acceptance was supposed to tie in with the message of people getting tested and knowing their status: a goal to strive for. As young people, we tend to think we're invisible and certain things only happen to some people and not "me".
Judging by some of the posts already up, and the comments left, both here at KBW and social networking sites like Facebook, it's pretty obvious that Shuga has its supporters and its opposers. And that's a good thing as it brings about public dialogue and debate. And if the film will lead some people to do some soul-searching and get tested, Shuga will have accomplished one of its objectives.
The bottom line is, ABSTINENCE ONLY SEX EDUCATION DOES NOT WORK!! It was kind of amusing to see/hear how shocked the "grown-ups" were when that survey came out showing that Kenyan youth are having plenty of sex. Of course they are! And they always have, so stop with the over the top reactions. Face reality. Teens are having sex, and they will continue to have it no matter how many times we preach abstinence. The best thing to do for our youth is educate them on how to protect themselves against HIV and other STDs, and teach them to take responsibility for their actions. For those that decide the best way to do that is by abstaining...good for them! Unfortunately, a majority won't. It's time we stopped burying our heads in the sand and pretending that every unmarried person is a virgin, or more accurately, should be a virgin. And even those that are married are known to stray. Otherwise, HIV rates among married couples wouldn't be so high.
I say, kuddos Shuga, for starting yet another HIV dialogue, and putting it in a context that the average campus student in Kenya can relate to. For those that think it's too "westernized", that's part of what's going on with our young Kenyans. They're busy becoming "westernized".