Art imitates life and can be powerful when artists take their lived experience and combine it with their creativity to raise awareness and uplift others. Multi-talented poet, HIV activist and survivor Ebony Payne-English recently met deployment to share her journey, how she uses her platform to advocate and continue the fight to end the HIV epidemic and discuss her award-winning short film which tells the story of Medusa from a different perspective.
Please give us an overview of your background and experience with HIV?
I’m a poet, playwright and hip-hop artist, and when I was diagnosed, one of the things that affected me was the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Because I was an artist who [having HIV] was something that kept me from seeking resources for fear of being recognized, spotted or unmasked in the community. In the industry, it’s a very careful thing to deal with when it comes to public perception, especially when it comes to sexuality. My job is to create opportunities and safe spaces for people, especially black women, living with this disease to feel safe.
What was your turning point out of your dark times?
Someone tried to use it against me. A woman in my community tried to take advantage of this on Facebook to shame me. People would come to my defense and say it wasn’t true. At that time I had to make a decision [because] I did not write; my pen would not allow me to be dishonest and pretend that I was fine when I was not. It forced me to look in the mirror, to love and approve of myself no matter what.
What are some tips you can share with our audience to protect themselves?
One of the main things is to protect yourself at all times. Get tested once a month and go to the clinic together. That’s the most real thing you can do is say, “I love you enough for you to know I have papers on this person. »
Tell us about the inspiration behind your film, Kuongoza.
Kuongoza is Swahili for “guide”, and it’s the reimagining of the story of Medusa. When I was little, my neighbor is Cuban, and we all used to hang out and play together. Her mother told me that Medusa was a Rasta woman with dreadlocks and believed her hair was snakes, but it was really gnarly dreadlocks, and from there, Kuongoza was born. This is the story of a woman, an empress, who was betrayed by her husband after she caught him having an affair and had his head removed, and she was reincarnated as the patron saint of black women. We are looking to release it on streaming platforms as March 28 will be a year since its release and first screening. I want black women to get their hands on it [film] as well as everyone to share the joy of black women.