Thursday, November 28, 2019

Ximei: Profile in Courage

Liu Ximei is continuing proof of one of Mainland China’s dirtiest secrets (and the Communist Party certainly has a lot to choose from). In the 1990s, peasants in hardscrabble Henan province were encouraged to supplement their subsistence income selling blood. Tragically, unsafe sanitary practices led to widespread AIDS infection among both donors and recipients. Naturally, the Party tried to sweep it under the rug, because that is what they do. However, one brave young woman emerged as a leader for the rural AIDS patients, after she contracted the disease through a transfusion. Viewers will meet her and witness the powerful opposition she faces in Andy Cohen & Gaylen Ross’s Ximei, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Liu might be familiar to some viewers, because she was the subject of Ai Weiwei’s documentary, Stay Home. Those who have seen it will be reassured by Teacher Ai’s involvement as an executive producer of Cohen & Ross’s doc. We get to know her better as a flesh-and-blood person through their lens—and to know Liu is to admire her.

Many of Liu’s experiences are somewhat universal, with respect to her search for companionship and her eventual romance with a fellow Henan patient. However, her activism and humanitarianism often put her at odds with the police and health services bureaucracy. Believing in the efficacy of patient solidarity and support, Liu opened “Ximei’s Home for Mutual Help,” a shelter and resource for patients who cannot afford to regularly commute from their rural homes to the urban clinics. Of course, even when they show up, the doctors and nurses often refuse to see them in a timely manner, prompting Liu to lodge rather pointed complaints on their behalf. Frustratingly, but not so surprisingly, the police have regularly forced Liu to relocate her shelter.

Although Ximei is a more personal profile than Ai Weiwei’s film, it still covers sufficiently sensitive topics to get Cohen and his crew rousted by the police at least once. This is definitely gutsy, truth-to-power filmmaking, but the subject and star is truly courageous.

Despite the film’s often intimate vibe, Ximei fully exposes the truth of Henan’s “Black Blood” AIDS scandal—and it isn’t pretty. In the process, it introduces us to at least a dozen patients surviving with AIDS, all of whom have stories to tell (that duly win our sympathy). As a result, this is an absolutely heartbreaking and infuriating film, but it is also inspiring. This is urgent and compelling cinema, in every respect.

Remember Liu Ximei’s name, for her sake. By documenting her struggles, Cohen & Ross have done important work. Frankly, her story has significant human rights and health implications. Say a prayer for her too (she is indeed a Christian) and make a point of seeing her film. Very highly recommended, Ximei opens tomorrow (11/29) in New York, at the Cinema Village. Happy Thanksgiving.