Popular Digital Show Packs a Duo Punch Educating and Raising Awareness in the Latino Community about HIV/AIDS
By Elia Esparza
The innovative web series Sin Vergüenza, an AltaMed and Kavich Reynolds Productions, has been nominated for two Imagen Awards in the category of Best Web Series: Drama and Best Web Series: Reality or Informative. Sin Vergüenza (Without Shame) is a telenovela web drama that raises awareness about HIV/AIDS, a taboo subject in the Latino community.
I had the opportunity to interview two of the actors and producer about starring in and making Sin Vergüenza, which is available in both English and Spanish, released in 2012 on World Day to Fight AIDS. Sin Vergüenza was part of an awareness campaign that the nonprofit organization AltaMed Health Systems implemented. The four webisodes of Sin Vergüenza can be seen on http://www.youtube.com/healthsvcs or on AltaMed’s website: http://www.althamed.org/hiv.
Watch the Sin Vergüenza trailer:
Sin Vergüenza creators and executive producers include: Natalie Sanchez, Hilda Sandoval, and Thomas Siegmeth of AltaMed in association with the Kavich Reynolds Productions. Director is Paco Farias. Cast includes: Eliana Alexander, Daniel Edward Mora, JM Longoria, Joanna Zanella, Dyana Ortelli and Maria Richwine.
Digging deep into the making of this important web series, two of Sin Vergüenza’s stars, Eliana Alexander and Daniel Edward Mora opened up to us. We also got some inside scoop on the behind the scenes info from AltaMed executive Thomas Siegmeth.
Latin Heat: Why was this role important to you?
Eliana Alexander: It’s important because as an actor, to play a character that has an impact with an audience is a gift. My character Adriana Salazar goes through a lot. Her arc is amazing and that is an opportunity to go to a very vulnerable place. It is also a great honor for me to meet the real woman of whom this character was based. It was amazing to be with her and hear and share her painful story. It was comforting to know that it can help many others in a similar situation.
Daniel E. Mora: Fighting AIDS should be important to everyone… It is still around. I’ve actually lost three friends to it. As a father, I want as much of a disease-free world for my daughters as possible.
LH: Did you have any preconceived notions about your role?
Eliana: In the early 90’s I lost my best friend Michael Viber to AIDS. He was an amazing talent and if only we had the advancements we have now he would probably be here with us today. With that said the only preconceived notion I had was that once you get AIDS your life is over. As time went on with new medical advances, that fear of course changed to hope.
Daniel: No, I’ve learned never to pre-judge a role in order to play him as honestly and directly as possible. I prefer to focus on why a particular character does something, not on whether it’s right or wrong.
LH: At the end of the series was your acting experience everything you thought it would be from a show with so much social service significance? OR did you yourself learn something new?
Eliana: My experience was everything and more. We all knew that this message was very important. It is an honor to be part of a series that really shares intense stories that most would hold onto tightly because of embarrassment. It is great to be part of a story that connects with an audience to deliver a strong message that can change their lives. As an actor on many levels being a part of this series was fantastic. Because of this show I have learned a lot about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and how they impact not only the partners but the entire family.
On a personal note, I learned that we all have an amazing strength and whenever anything happens to us, we need to dig deep, stay powerful and be positive. There is always a possibility if we look for it.
I would like to add that the crew was amazing and respectful with the subject matter. Our director Paco Farias really gave us the space and guidance we needed to dig deep to deliver strong performances. The writers Natalie Sanchez, Hilda Sandoval and Tom Siegmet intertwined the storylines beautifully. My beautiful cast mates were and are incredibly giving, loving and talented. We truly felt like a family while filming and we still feel like one now!
Daniel: Honestly, I may not have realized how important the message is. I may have focused on the role itself only. Afterwards, I realized the weight of the project and the importance of playing the character as honestly as possible in order to be as accessible to and affect as many people as possible, to maybe think twice before they do something life altering. I also had the great privilege of working with some great actors again and for the first time… I was very pleasantly surprised by some.
“We are so very proud and excited about the nominations for the Imagen Awards… this opens the door and gives us the opportunity to reach a wider population within the Latino community with our project,” said President and CEO of AltaMed, Castulo de la Rocha. “Our goal is to continue educating and creating awareness among our communities about AIDS prevention.”
LH: Were there any similarities from the fictional family in the show than the way you were raised in your own family?
Eliana: My family is very caring and loving with one another. When the going gets tough we stick together.
Daniel: Yes, I also come from a very loving family and as most, we ‘rally around the troops’. The love of your family may not solve every problem but it helps when you have to deal with them. It is ultimately, your best weapon.
LH: Did Sin Vergüenza change you as person?
Eliana: Anytime I have the pleasure of working as an actor I grow and learn a lot about myself. Especially in Sin Vergüenza, I feel I have a lot more knowledge about HIV care, especially how you can have a good quality of life with proper care. Nowadays with facilities like AltaMed you can get help on many levels. Even for your family to help educate them and help them understand.
Daniel: Yes and no. I have always tried to be as conscientious a person as possible: Aware and cautious. Being a father I’ve always put the security of my family first. I will however, have these conversations with my family early on, before it’s too late, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. The alternative could be far too uncomfortable.
“I thought Sin Vergüenza was a wonderful outside-the-box idea to reach out to and educate the Latino community about subject matter that is typically considered taboo. I knew from the beginning that this was a project that had the potential to make a big impact and I was privileged to be part of something so socially and culturally important.” ~ Paco Farias, Director
LH: How did the idea develop to produce a TV/web series instead of the traditional nonprofit PSA’s that are created for print, TV, radio?
Tom Seigmeth: AltaMed Health Services was given the opportunity to develop a campaign promoting Universal HIV testing that was aimed at targeting Latinos at risk for HIV infection. The campaign had to be creative, culturally and contextually appropriate and innovative to reach a broad Latino audience. The idea was born in a brainstorming session with [myself] Thomas Siegmeth, Director of HIV Services; Natalie Sanchez, Prevention Manager; Hilda Sandoval, Psychosocial Manager and Mental Health Clinician; Ramon Garcia, Marketing Manager; and John Reynolds of Kavich Reynolds Productions. AltaMed had already worked with this production company on a series of educational videos for AltaMed staff which addressed HIV 101, LGBT cultural Sensitivity issues, and Universal HIV testing. So it felt very natural to work with them again on this project.
The creative team at AltaMed then worked closely with Tom Kelsey, lead writer, on developing the story. The goal was to create a product that told the story of a Latino living with HIV. The story needed to be educational, entertaining and culturally appropriate. Each character in the story depicts themes that are common in the lives of persons living with HIV. We wanted to address the issues that were prevalent in HIV, including stigma, shame, infidelity, homophobia and trans-generational issues in the family as potential contributors to risk and the ongoing spread of HIV within Latino community.
LH: The success of “Sin Vergüenza” means what to AltaMed?
Tom: Since 1969, AltaMed has been committed to eliminating health disparities in underserved communities, a core mission of AltaMed. The success of Sin Vergüenza has been greater than we could have ever imagined, and it reconfirms our mission and dedication to Latino and multi-ethnic communities not only within the walls of our community health center throughout L.A. and Orange counties but through advocacy and education efforts nationwide. We are strongly committed to the National AIDS Strategy and goal to work towards an AIDS free generation.
LH: Will there be a second season for Sin Vergüenza?
Tom: We were fortunate to receive funds through the Expanded HIV Universal testing initiative tied to grant dollars from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to develop the first series. Since HIV is such a complicated issue, we would love to expand the series to show what happens after someone discovers they’re HIV positive. We would also like to address issues related to linkage individuals to care, retention, and treatment. Our hope is that a private donor and/or grants could fund a second series. We also believe this could be an opportunity for a TV network to partner with AltaMed to develop a one-hour special where so many more Latino families could be reached. The truth of the matter is that it takes more than a web series or a PSA to encourage families to get tested, know their status, and access care. We need to make HIV a part of our everyday discussion and if we are to significantly impact the HIV epidemic, we’ll need partners within the Hollywood community to help spread the word on the importance of HIV testing, prevention, and treatment.
About AltaMed Health Services
AltaMed Health System is a nonprofit organization in Southern California, which provides comprehensive primary care, health care programs for the elderly, and health and human services for the entire family. The multi-cultural and bilingual team at AltaMed, including doctors and industry professionals provide quality health services of the highest level and has 43 clinics and independent doctors affiliated with the Association of Independent Pratice (IPA) in the Counties of Los Angeles and Orange.