Sheryl Lee Ralph’s HIV Film ‘Unexpected’ Focuses on Black Women

Loading the player…

Emmy award winning actress, Sheryl Lee Ralph, is still bringing awareness to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Ralph is the brains behind a short documentary, ‘Unexpected,’ which premiered on Hulu on Dec 1 (World AIDS Day). The film examines the new HIV epidemic among straight Black women.

Cici Covin and activist, Masonia Traylor, are the main subjects of the film as they create an underground network of women helping women cope with and survive HIV diagnoses in the rural South.

Unexpected explores the critical issue of women facing HIV and looks into why Black women are disproportionally affected by the disease. According to the CDC, the HIV infection rate among Black women was the highest compared to women of all other races and ethnicities: 11 times that of White women and four times that of Latina women.

The star of ABC’s hit sitcom “Abbott Elementary”  found herself speaking out for victims of AIDS as she was gaining success in the Tony Award-nominated original Broadway cast of “Dream Girls” in 1983, around the same time the U.S. AIDS epidemic began. 

“Of all the wonderful things that we did, nobody every talks about the fact we lost one-third of our original company to AIDS,” said Ralph to ABC24 Memphis.

Over the forty years that have passed, Ralph has made continuous efforts to shed light on the topic. She created the DIVAS Foundation in remembrance of the many friends she lost to AIDS during her Dream Girls acting days. To date, the foundation has raised over $3.5M from corporations and individuals to deliver community-based programs targeting the most at-risk for poor health outcomes.

“So many people around the world have moved away from the conversation around HIV and AIDS,” Ralph says. “In 40 years, I have seen this narrative around this disease go from that they wanted to call a ‘gay white man’s disease’ to a ‘Black woman’s disease,’ especially the Black woman in the south of the United States. It has become the burden of this group of women to continue to do the work of raising awareness, and that’s exactly what this film does.”