An Early Frost is a 1985 made-for-TV movie that deals with a young lawyer coming out to this family as both gay and as someone recently diagnosed with AIDS. Like other mainstream media representations, the film privileges white gay male perspectives and reaffirms the traditional origin story of AIDS, i.e. that gay men were the first to be infected. More unusual is the film's address of structural issues related to health care and its message that HIV is not confined to “risk groups.”
The film tries to elicit sympathy for gay couples like protagonists Michael and Peter through an emphasis on their monogamous partnership. In an Advocate interview, writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman explain their intent of sending a message about the negative impact of “promiscuity.” Both the mainstream media and some gay publications cited promiscuity, defined as casual anonymous sex in bars and bathhouses, as primary cause of the spread of HIV. In contrast, “Michael and Peter are the kind of portrayals that gay people can be proud of,” says Cowen.
In the clip, Peter confesses that he cheated on Michael by going to gay bars and bathhouses. Michael reacts with outrage to Peter’s revelation and contrasts their relationship as safe and protected space with communal gay spaces of danger. From this point of view, the cause of AIDS is not a virus, but casual sex, and the best protection is a committed relationship—at least as long as both partners are faithful.
An Early Frost's overt address of the sexual aspects of gay culture is noteworthy, even if it is dismissive of them. Later films about AIDS, including the much-celebrated Philadelphia (1993), shun any sort of intimacy amon gay men. Indeed, the disarticulation of gay sexuality and gay identity becomes the precondition for the so-called explosion of gay media visibility during the 1990s. While Philadelphia is remembered as a breakthrough moment in Hollywood's engagement with gay culture, I argue that An Early Frost is more multi-faceted and daring, even if it is “only” a made-for-TV movie.
Block, Adam. “An Early Frost: The Story Behind NBC's AIDS Drama.” The Advocate, November 26, 1985, 43-47.