I Don’t Know Who You Are, the first feature film from M.H. Murray, does for access to PEP what Never Rarely Sometimes Always did for abortion access.
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The first thing I did after watching I Don’t Know Who You Are was google how to access PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV) in Toronto. I didn’t want to believe that the stressful horrors Benjamin (Mark Clennon) faced in search of PEP after a potential HIV exposure from sexual assault was a likely outcome. It’s a sign of a compelling social issue drama that I invested so much in the character’s struggles against a hostile healthcare system. Although things technically should go more smoothly than they do for Benjamin, based on current regulations in Ontario and clinics in Toronto, I believe what he goes through is possible. Government-funded programs exist that would end the film’s drama in a few minutes, but it can require some know-how to access them. (Most provinces in Canada will cover PEP for sexual assault. We’re puritanical enough that many provinces, Ontario included, won’t cover it for other exposures.)
M. H. Murray’s directorial debut, I Don’t Know Who You Are, does for access to PEP what Never Rarely Sometimes Always did for abortion access and Test Pattern for rape kit access. Set over a single weekend, follows Benjamin in the events leading up to the assault, establishing his life and milieu. And then, it follows him as he calls on every possible favour he can to pay for his prescription. The film is as interested in Benjamin’s character and complicated relationships as it is in the systemic failures. This puts it a notch above Never Rarely. But Murray also regularly manufactures drama by the characters repeatedly behaving in thoughtless ways. He also takes great pains to paint Benjamin as the Deserving Poor and the Good Queer lest anyone think that protection from HIV exposure shouldn’t also apply to consensual and even irresponsible sexual encounters.
A specifically Toronto film
Nevertheless, I admire how Murray has made a specifically Toronto film (streetcars included) in which the characters feel grounded and real, with lives offscreen, thanks mainly to the excellent performances. There’s detailed work in the production design and costumes that signal Benjamin’s pride, which almost becomes his downfall. This makes it slightly easier to believe that Benjamin is quite so clueless about how to access PEP. (He doesn’t even google it.) Although HIV stories are becoming increasingly common, it’s still rare to see one from a Canadian context. If the film triggers viewers to look up the abysmal state of PEP access in our country and how to protect themselves, it’s done important work. The films is sensitive in addressing how HIV isn’t the death sentence it once was. There are solutions when an exposure happens.
My full review will be published when the film I Don’t Know Who You Are is released in Canada in 2024. It’s still seeking distribution internationally.
Related reading/listening to M.H. Murray’s I Don’t Know Who You Are
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