During the AIDS Crisis in the United States, many queer, transgender, racialized, and otherwise minoritized communities were denied access to burying their dead with care and dignity. To counteract the neglect and prejudice reinforced by state, medical and funerary institutions, communities of the bereaved sought out radical forms of deathcare that prioritized mutual support and survival above all else (McHugh 2021). Produced towards the end of the crisis in 1996, Stephen Winter’s independent film, Chocolate Babies, offers an archival portrait of community-led death and grieving rituals among HIV-positive, urban, genderqueer activists of color that easily resonates within contemporary culture.
Through the film’s active resistance against capitalist futurity, it offers connecting motifs to scholar José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia (2009). Here, the author addresses how deliberate acts of queer affection and tenderness can transcend naturalized understandings of linear (read straight) temporality based on politics of reproduction that refuse to integrate the finality of death. The scene depicted above shows an improvised funeral held for the film’s main character, Max. Wrapped in a white shroud surrounded by a choir of his beloved, Max embraces his lover, Sam, from his deathbed in a wordless exchange. The life- and love-affirming touch between them challenges narratives of the HIV-positive body as already ‘dead,’ thereby skewing anti-queer and -trans-necro-temporalities. The rupture of such temporalities is doubled by the setting of the living funeral, which provides the opportunity for the character and viewer alike to alleviate the weight of death as an inevitable condemnation. Extrapolating from Muñoz’s analyses of radical Black tradition and queer futurity, such acts of intimacy bestow the performance of gesture with a potentially infinite capacity to bend or transcend linear temporality.
The moment captured in Chocolate Babies reaffirms the imperative to embrace a utopic potentiality that captures the importance of intersectionality, by which both queer/trans and Black bodies are liberated from the structures of normative, necro-political time. In showcasing alternative communal funerary rituals, grieving and healing practices, as well as life-affirming care even in death, Winter proposes a fundamental shift in representational strategies for queer and trans communities of color.
McHugh, Brendan. “Community Care in the AIDS Crisis.” JSTOR Daily, 20 Jan. 2021, https://daily.jstor.org/community-care-in-the-aids-crisis/.
Muñoz, José. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York University Press, 2009.