The HISTORY® Channel and WNYC Studios Announce “Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows”
Season Three of the critically-acclaimed “Blindspot” podcast series revisits the early years of the HIV epidemic in New York City and how the virus tore through some of our most vulnerable communities while the wider world looked away
Hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright, with lead reporting by The Nation Magazine’s Lizzy Ratner
Six-Episode Series Launches Thursday, January 18
Companion photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija featuring portraits from the series on view at The Greene Space at WNYC, opening reception January 25
New York – January 11, 2024 – The HISTORY® Channel and WNYC Studios today announced the co-production of a third season of “Blindspot,” the critically-acclaimed podcast series that revisits pivotal moments of American history to reveal stories still left untold. Season three will debut Thursday, January 18; an audio trailer is available here.
“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” revisits the largely untold history of communities of color decimated by the HIV epidemic, who remained invisible in the public discussion. Hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright (host of the nationally-syndicated public radio show and podcast Notes from America) with lead reporting by Lizzy Ratner of The Nation Magazine, “Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” takes listeners back to the mid-80s, when the virus tore through neighborhoods and communities of color. The series tells the story of the people most at risk, who were seen by politicians, policymakers, and the press to be expendable as the mysterious illness rapidly spread.
“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” captures this history through the voices of those who lived, fought, and died from this illness – activists, survivors, doctors, nurses, immunologists, elected officials, and people currently living with HIV. It asks how much of the pain of the epidemic could have been avoided, and what can we still learn.
The series begins at the onset of the AIDS epidemic against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s America – a time when greed was good, homosexuality was bad, and the nation’s outward prosperity gave cover to a disease that exploited our social inequities around race, gender, and poverty. Over the course of six episodes listeners are transported to the places where HIV first took root, and introduces people who did all they could to fight back despite limited resources:
- Located in one of the earliest epicenters of the epidemic, Harlem Hospital was in many ways ground zero for the virus. No one was talking about women and children, but HIV was sickening mothers who then passed it, unknowingly, to their newborns. We hear from doctors and pediatric nurses who were among the first medical professionals to bear witness to an unknown condition, and how the maternity ward became a makeshift home for children too sick to go home or who no longer had family to go home to.
- In the South Bronx an estimated 21% of men were HIV positive, due in part to intravenous drug use – a major way to transmit the virus in addition to sexual transmission. We hear from a woman who lost her brother to the disease and then set up an illegal needle exchange program in an effort to stem the spread.
- At a maximum security prison in upstate New York, a group of women inmates came together to fight the terror and stigma that was swirling as more and more of them got sick with AIDS. They founded AIDS Counseling and Education (ACE), one of the country’s first HIV/AIDS organizations for women. These women fought to be seen—by the public, the government, and even the medical establishment.
- Hart Island, New York City’s public cemetery, has always interred individuals who were homeless, unclaimed by family, or without means. It is thought to be the largest burial ground in the country for people who died of AIDS. Listeners meet a woman whose mother is buried on the island, and the man who supervised burials in the 1980s.
The podcast series is accompanied by a photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija, an NYC-based artist who was born HIV-positive and lost her mother to the disease at 14. The exhibit features portraits of subjects heard in “Blindspot” along with other photos from her critically-acclaimed body of work, which was the subject of a one-woman show at Fotografiska in NYC in 2022. The exhibit opens with a reception on Thursday, January 25 from 6-8pm at The Greene Space at WNYC, and kicks off a larger Artist in Residence series with LaBeija running throughout the winter.
“I’ve been reporting on the AIDS epidemic since 1996, a time when too many people had already decided it was over,” said Kai Wright. “I decided then to begin telling a fuller story — one that makes plain that HIV/AIDS wasn’t strictly a medical crisis, but a social disease. HIV/AIDS spawned incredible social movements, forced us to confront cruel bigotries in our communities and our government, and it isn’t over. People are still getting infected and some of them are still dying. There’s a lot still to be learned, particularly about the epidemic among Black people and poor people.”
“WNYC Studios is proud to partner with The HISTORY Channel to elevate the voices of people on the frontline of the AIDS epidemic who were largely left out the ‘first draft of history’,” said Kenya Young, Senior Vice President, WNYC Studios. “Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows’ reminds us that people of color, women, children, poor people, and so many others at the margins were also casualties of this unrelenting epidemic – and raises profoundly relevant questions around healthcare equity and grassroots activism today.”
“The HISTORY Channel is pleased to build on the legacy of award-winning podcasts and news gathering elements that Blindspot has created,” said Eli Lehrer, Executive Vice President Programming, The HISTORY Channel. “We are saddened to expose the outrageous inequity of the epidemic in communities of color, but encouraged to shine a light on it so that more attention and resources can be directed where it needs to go.”
Leadership support for The Greene Space’s Artist-in-Residence program is provided by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation. Additional support is provided in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Kia LaBeija’s Artist-in-Residency at The Greene Space is supported in part by The Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Blindspot is a co-production of The HISTORY® Channel and WNYC Studios. The series debuted in 2020 with “Blindspot: The Road to 9/11,” which brought to light the shadow struggle that preceded the September 2001 terrorist attacks. The second season, “Blindspot: Tulsa Burning,” launched with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and explored it reverberates in American culture today. “Tulsa Burning” was awarded a duPont Columbia Journalism Award,an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding News + Information Podcast, and two Webbys for Best Series and Best Writing. It was also nominated for a Peabody Award.
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