'Tracking the Beast' of AIDS Ed Gordon talks with R&B star India.Arie and actress Ashley Judd, who teamed up to highlight the plight of the 38 million Africans suffering from AIDS in a new VH1 documentary, Tracking the Monster.
NPR logo

'Tracking the Beast' of AIDS

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4809567/4809595" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Tracking the Beast' of AIDS

'Tracking the Beast' of AIDS

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4809567/4809595" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ED GORDON, host:

AIDS is a ravaging disease that has hit Africa particularly hard, robbing the very young and very old of caretakers and breadwinners. According to some estimates, Africa is home to more than 70 percent of the over 40 million people living with HIV and AIDS in the world. To bring attention to the catastrophe, cable channel VH1 is premiering a new documentary tomorrow called "Tracking the Monster." The film features singer India.Arie and actress Ashley Judd as they travel to some of the most desperate areas of the continent.

(Soundbite of "Tracking the Monster")

Ms. ASHLEY JUDD: I thought I couldn't be shocked.

Unidentified Woman: Do you mind if I take a little peek inside the tent?

Ms. JUDD: Bull crap.

Oh, boy.

Ms. INDIA.ARIE: That was a lot to see. That was why I traveled for 24 hours to get to Kenya.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: How long as you been working as a commercial sex worker?

Ms. ARIE: I've changed in a more profound way than I even thought possible.

GORDON: India.Arie and Ashley Judd, thanks so much for joining us. Good to have you with us.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

Ms. JUDD: Thank you.

GORDON: Let me start off by asking you, India, why you wanted to involve yourself with this project.

Ms. ARIE: In my private time, in my quiet moments, I always pray for ways that I can help the world and help children and women and men and people and the environment. And this opportunity was presented and it felt right, so I went.

GORDON: And, Ashley Judd, the idea that--the title in and of itself, "Tracking the Monster," really speaks to the issue and problem of AIDS, not only in Africa, but in the world today. Is this something that is close to your heart in terms of whether or not you've been touched by this, family members or otherwise? Why did you involve yourself?

Ms. JUDD: I involved myself because God knocked at the door of my conscience and said, `Yo, it's time,' and service has always been in my heart. And I was an activist in college, and social change and social justice are terribly important to me, and it was a unique opportunity to manifest that kind of righteous activity in my life when I was approached by Youth AIDS to be their global ambassador.

And I agree with you. I think the title, "Tracking the Monster," is phenomenally descriptive, and it actually comes from a song that the children were singing that India visited when she was with KNWA, which is Kenyan Women's...

Ms. ARIE: Kenyan Network of Women with AIDS.

Ms. JUDD: Yeah. And so there's a really incredible moment when you see these children basically singing this plaintive song about, `Where did this monster come from? Tell me, Mother. Tell me, Papa.' It's amazing.

(Soundbite of "Tracking the Monster")

Group of Children: (Singing) Tell me, Brother, tell me, Sister, Papa and Mamma. I'd like to hear where the monster has came from. Why you do not answer? Tell me, Brother, tell me, Sister, Papa and Mamma.

GORDON: Let me ask you both as you went over and involved yourself hands-on--we should note that this is far more than just attaching your name to it. India, what surprised you most? What did you find most startling?

Ms. ARIE: It's hard to answer 'cause there were so many things. The first thing that comes to mind is just how many orphans there really are and, like, true orphans. Not kind of, like, you have aunts and uncles and your parents are, you know, a little here and there. They might be on some substance and they're kind of not there for you. Orphans; no uncles, no aunts, no parents, no grandparents, no nobody. And really, really young.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ARIE: And I was also surprised to see--there be, like, a nine-year-old taking care of a seven-year-old, like, carrying them on their back as if one is the mother and one is the child. But there was a lot of that, a lot of that, a lot of that. When I got home and I would close my eyes, I would just see a whole bunch of little brown faces, just crowds of brown faces, a lot. And I knew that, they told me, but seeing it was different.

Ms. JUDD: To go back for a split second to India's nine-year-old who's looking after her younger siblings and possibly cousins, that girl is so vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and sexual exploitation because she has no economic empowerment--Why should see? She's nine--she has no educational opportunities because she has to provide for her siblings, and she is at risk for two horrible phenomenon which are plaguing the sub-Saharan continent, across generational sects, where she takes an older partner out of total destitution, and transactional sex, which means that she'll have sex with someone for some kind of good, whether it's half a liter of petrol or a thing of kindling or a meal. And those orphans and other vulnerable children are so at risk of HIV.

And that segues into what was most--has been most shocking to me in all of my travels--I've been to five countries now with Youth AIDS--the total disempowerment of girls and women and the extreme poverty. I have never seen or imagined poverty like this, and it is a global reality for so many hundreds and hundreds of millions of people.

Ms. ARIE: Yes.

GORDON: India, obviously, this documentary and the further work is a want to open people's eyes to see the devastation that is attacking this continent. I'm curious as you take a look at all of this and involve yourself more and learn more, become more educated, why do you believe that the world has not turned its full attention to the problems that we see on this continent, in general?

Ms. ARIE: Hmm. I have a lot of theories. I honestly think--I'm pausing like this because I don't want to be offensive to anymore, but...

Ms. JUDD: Do it, girl. Say it.

Ms. ARIE: I know. Right? I honestly think that if it were...

Ms. JUDD: That's right.

Ms. ARIE: ...a bunch of poor white people...

Ms. JUDD: That's exactly right.

Ms. ARIE: ...that people would care more.

Ms. JUDD: Mm-hmm.

GORDON: Let me ask this, Ashley Judd. The idea of what India talked about--and I contend that race continues to be the greatest taboo in this country. We just don't like to talk about it.

Ms. ARIE: Mm-hmm.

Ms. JUDD: I agree.

GORDON: The idea that we are allowing a continent--whether it's through famine or AIDS or violence--to really decimate itself...

Ms. JUDD: Any preventable disease...

GORDON: ...what do you think has to be done to wake the world up, frankly?

Ms. JUDD: I think that it will take a multipronged approach. I believe that there is an insidious dance between the media and our wealthy, comfortable Western population. The media doesn't necessarily talk about it and put these stories on its front pages and in its headline news, and we don't mind them not doing that because we really want to look the other way and pretend it's not happening. And there is absolutely no doubt that fundamentally, this is racist.

Ms. ARIE: Mm-hmm.

Ms. JUDD: And if it were happening in eastern Europe, if it were happening to basically white people anywhere, we would come to their rescue so swiftly and with such righteousness. And we have an entire continent going down in flames while we were standing idly by holding the watering cans, and our generation will be judged for this.

And to go back to what can be done, there are grassroots programs that offer such hope, and they are really inexpensive to run. A Youth AIDS program costs $10 per person, educated and protected, for an entire year; it's the cost of a pizza. You can go online and donate through Youth AIDS, you can support global fund programs, you can buy these new empowerment tags. We're all taking a cue from Lance and the tremendous success of his yellow bracelets. Bracelets are a little done, though, so the new thing are these empowerment tags that cost $5. You buy one set for yourself, one set for a friend, 10 bucks, you save a life. And what I really like about them is they're catalysts for meaningful conversation. The campaign is `Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.' So you talk about what is happening and you also talk about why we're not talking about what is happening.

Ms. ARIE: Mm-hmm.

GORDON: Well, the documentary is from VH1 and it's called "Tracking the Monster." Ashley Judd and India.Arie confront AIDS in Africa.

And I thank you both for joining us, and I salute you both. I'm pleased to see that you both have not only been so touched, but seem to be earnest in the want to change things, and I greatly appreciate that.

Ms. JUDD: Thank you.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

Ms. JUDD: I'm finally comfortable with being earnest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JUDD: I've been earnest all my life, and now I'm earnest and not shy about it.

Ms. ARIE: Oh, please. Try being an R&B singer and being earnest. People do not like that. They don't like it. They don't...

GORDON: Ladies, thank you.

Ms. ARIE: Thank you.

Ms. JUDD: Thank you, sir.

GORDON: All right.

The VH1 documentary "Tracking the Monster" premieres tomorrow. For more information about the film, go to our Web site at npr.org.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.