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MAC on a Mission

MAC Cosmetics marks World AIDS Day with film.

LONDON — “It’s Not Over,” a documentary sponsored by the MAC AIDS Fund, will be released today to mark World AIDS Day.


MAC gave Andrew Jenks, the director, total creative control over the film, which explores the lives of three youths — from the United States, India and South Africa — affected by HIV and AIDS, and which premiered in Los Angeles in late November.


While the project was conceived as an awareness-raising rather than money-spinning venture, Netflix ended up buying it for $65,000, which MAC used to translate the film into multiple languages. The documentary will be distributed in 13 countries.


WWD sat down with Nancy Mahon, the fund’s global executive director, and with Lucky Mfundisi, a South African youth worker and teacher — and one of the film’s stars — in London, when they were here for the UK premiere.

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Here, the two talk about why MAC took the leap into filmmaking, the challenges of communicating to young people about AIDS, and changing the world one teen at a time.


WWD: How and why did MAC decide to make the film?

Nancy Mahon: We thought, ‘How do we tell the story of AIDS not being over?’ What we thought we needed to do was to basically become a content publisher in some ways, and really change the business model. We decided that we wanted to focus on young people, because the numbers [of HIV cases] are rising in young people, and they’re the future policy makers, and they’re the people who need to protect themselves. With Viva Glam, we have access to young people. Young people listen to Rihanna, they listen to Miley Cyrus, so how do we leverage our core strength?


WWD: What are your ambitions for the film?

NM: The hope is that it will be a money raiser, that people will hopefully buy Viva Glam [lipstick, the proceeds of which go to those affected by HIV-AIDS] but we haven’t engineered the Web site that way. I mean, mostly what we want [people] to do is get busy, and do some good work. In store, on World AIDS Day, our 16,000 makeup artists be wearing a button that says: ‘It’s not over.’ It’s about trying to take the power of the brand, and getting the story out. One of the things we have now is that young people don’t know anything about AIDS. We know a ton. Our kids know nothing. We’re not the generation that’s going to end AIDS, young people are.


WWD: What else were you trying to accomplish with the documentary format, and the focus on young people?

NM: Our generation has been really preachy about AIDS, very pedantic, so people check out. I think what’s so striking is that the film is about listening. You can never learn with your mouth open. It’s true, and I feel like our generation has had their mouths open the whole time about AIDS. We also need more money in the field. We’ve been at it a long time, and we’d love more company. We’re the second highest funder of AIDS [research] privately outside of Bill Gates. That’s crazy.


WWD: Are there any more films in the pipeline?

NM: We would – but it’s not budgeted. I think what we’re trying to figure out is this: The U.S. version of this movie is 74 minutes, and we’re now having requests for shorter versions. We’re looking at the possibilities of mobile. What we’re trying to figure out is, is there a way, around mobile, to do shorter stories?

WWD: Was there anything about the film that you found particularly affecting?

NM: You can see the lack of hope. There are no jobs [in South Africa], and the whole revolution was supposed to create all of these jobs, and that just hasn’t happened. I think what you see [overall] in the film is that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting more and more profound. And with AIDS, if you’re a have-not, you’re more vulnerable, and then you don’t have access to medication. There’s a scene in the film where Sarang [an Indian playwright] says: ‘No, I’m not on medication, I’m not sick enough yet.’ He lives in India. But the treatment here and in the U.S. means that as soon as you’re sick, you get the medication.


WWD: Lucky, why did you take part in this film?

Lucky Mfundisi: What I’m basically trying to do is to make youth understand. The government or other people can go around talking about HIV, how it’s all over the place, but do the young people understand what they’re saying? I am a young person, I know their language. I know how to get through to them, because they need to trust someone who understands them. The older generation will tell you what you’re not supposed to do, but I will come up and discuss. I don’t need a class. I just stand in a corner and come up with a topic without them even noticing, and I’ll let them share their views among each other.

WWD: What goals are you working toward in terms of education, awareness of HIV-AIDS?

LM: My mum said: ‘I wish HIV could just be like the flu.’ When you say you have flu, no one runs away from you. My mum, she said, if ever people can treat HIV like that, and be comfortable enough next to a person who’s HIV positive, then fine. I think stigma is one of the things that the youth know. Where I come from [Khayelitsha, which has some of the highest AIDS rates in South Africa] they will push you away [if you have HIV-AIDS]. If we can fight that, help them to understand that stigma is one of the things that is wrong, that the stigma kills more than HIV. We have more kids in South Africa hanging themselves, taking pills, shooting themselves, throwing themselves into rivers, because they have HIV, because other people are pushing them away. They think: ‘I’m dead anyway. Let me just finish it now.’


WWD: Talk to me about some of the strategies you use to get through to your peers about HIV-AIDS.

LM: We look at the things that will lead to HIV. There’s alcohol, some of them don’t think that when they drink, they put themselves at risk of getting HIV. You can’t just tell them: ‘Don’t drink.’ They must understand the disadvantages of involving themselves in sexual activities while drunk. Drugs, poverty… they must understand that all of those things can lead to getting HIV.


WWD: What are some of the other strategies you use?

LM: If you’ve got a class of about 40 kids, and you want to change them all, you’re going to struggle. But if there’s one who remembers what you said… yes! And hoping that that one person can just go out there and change a life. If he or she changes her life, and somebody follows that example of her or him changing their life. One person, that’s all you’re looking for. We can’t change the whole world in one day.