tv shows have an unbalanced history with hiv storylines. while some shows have failed completely, others like “pose” have succeeded in developing hiv story arcs that effectively challenge hiv stigma. on this national women and girls hiv/aids awareness day, we remember the time that a sitcom beautifully handled hiv disclosure.
in 2006, a quirky sitcom about two half sisters who reconnect as adults and grow their relationship while living in the same apartment building, claimed their spot in hiv television history.
since the onset of the hiv epidemic in the 1980’s, tevleision sitcoms have attempted to use both humor and heart to inform the masses about basic prevention and stigma. many of these “special episodes”, how they were promoted then, often came across as “preachy” and reinforced the narrative that the person living with AIDS, which was usually a white gay male, should be loved because he can be “redeemed.” in addition, very few dealt with disclosure in a way that wasn’t fatalistic.
“half & half”, ya know the show with the dope ass theme song, premiered on UPN in 2002 and was the fourth most watch show on the network before it was canceled in 2006 when the network merged with the WB to create what is now the CW.
in one of the show’s final episodes, michelle williams of destiny’s child, guess stars as naomi, secondary characther spencer’s love interest. after a few dates, spencer is confused if naomi is even interested in him romantically. and things heat up between the two, naomi then discloses that she is hiv positive. prepared to be dumped by spencer, she is surprised when he says “it doesn’t matter. we may have to do some things differently, if we decide to do some things.”
when i first watched this episode, i was floored because i had never seen a sitcom one: handled hiv disclosure so beautiful and two: still center intimacy, consent and pleasure. well over a decade later, no other sitcom to my knowledge has successfully done the same. and what is amazing about this episode is that it models conservations about HIV disclosure are not portrayed as “bad” and “horrific” news but rather a moment of intimacy.
so on this national women & girls HIV/AIDS awareness day, we are celebrating “half & half” for handling hiv disclosure so tenderly.
written by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca