MAKING AN IMPACT: Best known for his portrayal as the iconic Damien in “Mean Girls,” actor Daniel Franzese is getting loud about the impact that film and television have on how people who are HIV-positive are seen.

“I am somebody who reads the newspaper every day, up on current events for LGBTQ issues,” says Daniel Franzese, “and there was so much information I did not know [about HIV/AIDS]. I was shocked.”

He continues, “We believe there’s a direct correlation between the lack of stories being told in cinema and television and the rise of new infections.” Since the ’80s, there have been fewer and fewer infections every year.

“We believe there’s a direct correlation between the lack of stories being told in cinema and television and the rise of new infections.”

Early portrayals

Let’s go back to the start. HIV was discovered to cause AIDS in the early 1980s. AIDS- and HIV-related storylines became quite common in the early days – it was a hot topic for the entertainment industry. “The Ryan White Story in 1989, “Philadelphia with Tom Hanks in 1993 and the musical “RENT,” which first premiered in 1994. The hit TV show “ER was one of the first to include an HIV-positive regular cast member who would not be killed off by the virus – Gloria Reuben’s Jeanie Boulet. This was in 1996.

Since then, only a few HIV-positive characters have made their way onto scripted TV, recently and most notably, Franzese’s portrayal of Eddie on HBO’s “Looking.” However, since the mid-90s, the number of stories told has decreased noticeably. Since this decline in movies and TV shows, experts have also seen a drastic increase in the number of new diagnoses.

But the effect of these stories doesn’t stop there. Even more recent movies and shows like “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Normal Heart,” and ABC’s “When We Rise” are historical stories about the way things were in the beginning. Diagnosis, treatment and living with AIDS and HIV is not the same today. Newer stories need to be told, and they need to include truths about protection, testing and treatment.

LOOKING FORWARD: Thanks to shows like “How To Get Away With Murder,” “Transparent” and “Falling For Angels,” which Franzese stars in, portrayals of HIV-postive characters are becoming more visbile and complex.

In our hands

Franzese is committed to telling these truths. “Since we started this initiative, more stories started popping up.” He’s referring to HIV-positive storylines on “How To Get Away With Murder” and “Transparent.” He’s also playing a second HIV-positive character on Amazon Prime’s “Falling For Angels.”

In the end, it’s all about knowledge. Franzese encourages everyone to get tested and treated. Having HIV is no longer a death sentence; there are ways to prevent and treat it. Franzese closes by giving an impassioned plea: “Know your status. That’s the key to everything. If everybody got tested, if everyone got proper treatment, this would be the last generation to have HIV in our country.”