Out of Control was the first national network television documentary to examine how and why AIDS has become overwhelmingly a Black epidemic--not in Africa or the Third World, but right here in the United States.
Blacks make up 13% of the total US population, but over 50% of all new cases of HIV infection. That infection rate is eight times the rate of whites. Among women, the statistics are even more shocking: 70% of all new HIV infections are Black women, and a black woman is 23 times more likely than her white counterpart to be diagnosed with AIDS. AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women ages 25-49, and has been for the last 11 years.
In interviews with AIDS activists, doctors, public health officials, and Black leaders, Out of Control revealed, for the first time, the political and social reasons AIDS spiraled into a crisis in Black communities across the country.
Among these was a lack of any consistent or ongoing effort to specifically address the Black epidemic by the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations. And perhaps most importantly, the documentary examined a failure of mobilization and leadership in the Black community itself.
In examining these controversial and difficult topics, Out of Control included the last original reporting by Peter Jennings, just before his cancer diagnosis. Jennings, who played an important role in conceptualizing the program, interviewed a group of African American HIV-positive men in Atlanta who spoke with remarkable candor about the harsh realities of dealing with AIDS in Black America.
Until this broadcast, no major African-American leader or organization had taken on AIDS in Black America as a fighting cause. While many American Black leaders and celebrities had very visibly embraced the cause of AIDS in Africa, few devoted similar energy to the epidemic here at home. Interviews with Jesse Jackson and other Black leaders, especially in the Black Church, revealed the extent to which the AIDS crisis had been ignored.
In one notable instance, Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of America's most prominent African-American pastors, was interviewed about his own lack of leadership in the epidemic. After the broadcast, Jakes announced a new comprehensive national HIV/AIDS awareness program called "It's Time to Step Up," directed at faith communities, minorities, and women.
Out of Control: The AIDS Epidemic in Black America brought to national attention not only the shocking disparities in the epidemic in the US, but also confronted how we as a nation approach a major public health crisis that is centered primarily in a minority community. A preventable, treatable disease is killing thousands of Black Americans each year. But until this program, no one was paying attention.