Red Alert


The 27-year-old woman wearing an "I Love New York" T-shirt looked healthy. Her visit to New York from her home in Zambia included plans to see Wicked, sing karaoke and attend, last week, a star-studded screening of The Lazarus Effect, a 30-minute documentary at the Museum of Modern Art.

Concilla Muhau is one of four HIV-positive Zambians in the film, all of whom shared their stories with filmmaker/director Lance Bangs who went to Africa to demonstrate the dramatic transformation of their lives before and after taking antiretroviral drugs.

The documentary, exec produced by Spike Jonze and produced by Anonymous Content and (Red) -- the organization that touts using commerce to help fight AIDS via co-branded products -- debuts May 24 on HBO, YouTube and Britain's Channel 4. It shows Muhau first as a skeletal figure, barely able to move from a chair. "It was like I was already dead," she says in the film. Ninety days later, the documentary shows, she gained weight, is mobile and can be a mother to her daughter.

Speaking to Adweek after the screening, Muhau says it was hard to share her story with the world, but she did it to help others like her.

Like most documentaries, The Lazarus Effect (its title was taken from the name of a similar print piece in a 2007 issue of Vanity Fair co-edited by Bono and refers to the biblical Lazarus rising from the dead) didn't have a distribution plan in place when the project began (though it later found a home as an HBO documentary film). But unlike most, this one was screened at MoMa to a room of famous faces. The approximate 400 "friends of (Red)" included co-founder Bono, a number of the 31 celebrity supporters from Hollywood and the fashion and music industries featured in a PSA about the cost of the antiretroviral drugs showing on HBO, as well as on ABC, CBS and CNN.

As they arrived, celebs such as Gabourey Sidibe, Hayden Christensen, and supermodels Iman and Christy Turlington made their way down the red carpet and answered questions from the media, including a Facebook-facilitated live Q&A from those following the action online. As Bono discussed the work of the organization, officially described as "designed to eliminate AIDS in Africa," he proudly displayed samples of (Red) products he carried with him, such as Apple's (Red) iPod and a box of Nike (Red) soccer shoelaces.

(Red) was launched in 2006 with charter partners Gap, Emporio Armani, American Express and Apple. It was co-founded by Bono and  Bobby Shriver to engage the private sector in raising awareness about AIDs and money for the Global Fund -- an international partnership of public and private constituents dedicated to financing programs that work to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria -- to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. Brands that have since joined with (Red) include Hallmark and Bugaboo, and smaller ones that have produced special-edition products such as Beats by Dr. Dre, Girl Skateboards and Channel Island Surfboards.

The brands, which represent consumer segments that, combined, reach a broad target, primarily 18 to 35 year olds, receive category exclusivity for the duration of the partnerships. Portions of the profits from the sale of the co-branded products, up to 50 percent depending on the agreement between the marketer and (Red), go to support the Global Fund. The funds raised by (Red) products, $150 million so far, support AIDS programs that have reached more than 5 million people in Swaziland, Rwanda, Ghana, Lesotho, Zambia and South Africa.
The concern, however, is that the momentum the Global Fund has gained in Africa will slow down or reverse, due to recession-related economic problems, and this may put supplies of the drug regimens responsible for the lifesaving transformative effects pictured in the documentary at a critical level. Global Fund supports about 50 percent of all patients receiving AIDS treatment in Africa, says its executive director Michel Kazatchkine. Which is why having (Red), its largest private contributor, with its new dual effort (the film and PSA) pitching in "so important."

"At a time of great progress, to see things backslide would really be criminal," adds Susan Smith Ellis, (Red) CEO and former Omnicom exec. "Will various governments continue to fund the Global Fund on the same level? It's really important to tell these stories, especially now."

See also: "Seeing (Red): Video Interview With Michel Kazatchkine of the Global Fund"

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