Independent Lens: Wilhemina's War

About This Episode


In much of America, progress in HIV/AIDS treatment and improvement in education may suggest the worst is behind us, but every year 50,000 Americans are still diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS. Astonishingly, nearly half of them live in the South, where the AIDS epidemic has taken root in rural communities and is one of the leading causes of death among black women.

Wilhemina’s War is the story of Wilhemina Dixon, an uneducated daughter of sharecroppers who becomes a force in her family’s fight for survival from HIV and AIDS. Shot over the course of five years, the film bears witness to the resilience and determination of the human spirit in the face of tremendous adversity. Wilhemina, or "Mina," as everyone calls her, knows little about public policy, but a great deal about caring for the sick. Five of her family members are living with HIV, and she is the caregiver for her daughter, Toni, a drug addict, and her teenage granddaughter, Dayshal, born with HIV and now the victim of online bullying.

While Wilhemina struggles to save her family, South Carolina politics only increase her burden as Governor Nikki Haley rejects billions of federal dollars available through the Affordable Care Act, a decision with devastating implications for those in need. Undaunted, Wilhemina soldiers on, taking a cue from her state’s motto: "While I Breathe, I Hope."