The Most Important Films and Books about HIV and AIDS

Understanding complex issues like the HIV pandemic is always much easier when you employ works of art for the purpose. HIV and AIDS have had such a profound impact on humankind that numerous authors and movie directors have focused on this topic.

In this guide, you’ll find a list of high quality films and books discussing HIV and AIDS. If scientific publications aren’t your thing, you can rely on these works of art to understand the virus and its effects better.

Dallas Buyers Club

The real story of HIV-positive cowboy Ron Woodruff scored Matthew McConaughey an Academy Award for his exceptional performance.

Dallas Buyers Club follows Woodruff’s experience from the moment he got the positive test result to the time he started looking for therapies aimed at helping him control the condition. Set in 1985, the film discusses the absence of FDA-approved choices in the US and the buyer’s club that Woodruff set up to address the issue (often involving the acquisition of medications from Mexico).

While the film does portray the life of HIV-positive individuals and their daily struggles, it discusses more profound issues like the incredibly slow processes national health authorities adopt towards approving new therapeutic protocols. It’s a systemic examination of healthcare shortcomings that sheds some light on the reasons why the early days of the HIV pandemic had such a devastating effect.

Close to the Knives

Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration is an incredibly impactful book written by HIV/AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz.

Published in 1991, the book came out only one year before its author passed away from AIDS-related health complications at the age of 37.

In Close to the Knives, Wojnarowicz discusses the shocking reality that LGBTQ individuals have to deal with, especially when it pertains to healthcare and discrimination.

The book is a collection of essays that approaches the challenging topics with a sense of humour and a lot of warmth.  Because of its honest and raw nature, the memoir has been acclaimed internationally and is considered one of the most prominent works on the deeper social topics related to being HIV-positive and belonging to a marginalised group.


Rather than being a memoir, Push is a fictional novel that presents the life of Precious – a teenage protagonist who’s larger bodied, dark-skinned and born to a low income, abusive family.

Push by Sapphire explores the consequences of the upbringing that Precious has had. This upbringing leads her to mothering two children during her teen years and also getting an HIV diagnosis.

Through encouragement, education and empowerment Precious manages to eventually turn her life around. The book is a very important work that explores many facets of HIV/AIDS, as well as social inequalities that interfere with getting an adequate diagnosis and support.

Written back in 2009, the book has gotten such rave reviews that it was eventually adapted and filmed. The film by the same name received multiple Academy Award nominations.

An Early Frost

This film is often considered the first major production to deal with the topic of HIV/AIDS.

An Early Frost premiered in 1985 and it depicts the life of a gay man who has to come back home and let his family know that he is HIV-positive. 

Because of its open and honest examination of social stigmatisation and challenges pertaining to an HIV diagnosis, An Early Frost is credited with starting a major discussion about HIV and pushing the topic in front of a wide audience.

On top of being very sobering and accurate, An Early Frost is also a cinematic masterpiece. The film has won four Emmy awards and a Golden Globe award. When it was originally broadcast on NBC in the US, An Early Frost gathered an audience of 34 million viewers.


If you’re going to be watching impactful films about HIV, Philadelphia needs to be included in your list. While the reviews about this one are mixed, Philadelphia is the one film that got people openly talking about HIV and AIDS.

Philadelphia’s story is simple – it discusses the story of a lawyer who gets fired after his firm finds out that he’s HIV-positive.

Tom Hank’s performance as the wronged attorney is outstanding and it’s one of the reasons why Philadelphia is the recipient of two Academy Awards.

The Lazarus Effect

To make the list complete, we need to include an exceptional entry that presents the devastating impact of HIV on African communities.

The Lazarus Effect came out in 2010 and the documentary has a positive twist, unlike some of the other films we’ve discussed. The 30-minute production traces the impact antiretroviral medications have had on some of the most impoverished and AIDS-stricken communities in Zambia.

The Lazarus Effect is acknowledged for its minimalist approach to film-making. The aim is to led the stories of interviewees shine through and without unnecessary bells and whistles.

If you want to learn more about HIV, we definitely recommend the books and movies mentioned above. And if you’re interested in an honest conversation about the condition, contact Shim Clinic now. You can also pay us a visit during working hours every day of the week to have a confidential consultation with one of our knowledgeable staff members.