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Nkosi Johnson Story to be Portrayed in Film

Seven years ago, at the International Aids Conference in Durban, South Africa, an
11-year-old boy captured the world’s attention when he spoke about HIV/AIDS. Nkosi Johnson called for an end to stigma and discrimination. He said, “Care for us and accept us. We are all human beings.” Nkosi died the following year, 2001.

Nkosi’s adoptive mother was Gail Johnson – a white South African woman who took in a black child after his mother died of AIDS. She says a movie is being made about Nkosi’s life, based on a book by former ABC news correspondent Jim Wooten. It’s called, “We Are All The Same.” From Johannesburg, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about her reaction.

“Look, for Nkosi, it’s stunning. I just think it’s brilliant that he’s getting the recognition and it’s an honor, But, you know, it’s quite scary that someone said, ‘Wow, this is a movie-type story.’ You know what I mean?” she says.

Johnson waged a hard-fought campaign to get Nkosi into school, despite his being HIV positive. She expects the film to be raw and powerful. “I’ve met with the scriptwriter and he’s been out here. And, yes, it’s going to press buttons. But I live with it daily, from an illness-of-kids point of view, an illness-of-moms point of view. So, while loss of Nkosi is going to maybe be brought to the fore again, it’s not that tender, if you know what I mean,” she says.

Actress Naomi Watts has signed to portray Gail Johnson in the film. “Poor woman,” she says. Johnson describes herself as a heavy smoker, who “swears like a trooper and works non-stop. I don’t know whether she’s a smoker, but maybe they should just leave that part out.”

Nkosi’s Haven, which was founded while the child was still alive, has expanded into the Nkosi Johnson AIDS Foundation. Nkosi’s Haven, which consists of two houses, is home to some HIV-infected women and their children. “Seven moms and 59 kids,” she says, “Of those 59 kids, 27 are orphaned and nine of my children are infected, five of those through rape, not from birth. We’re just about finishing what we call Nkosi Haven Village. And that’ll accommodate 100 moms and 183 kids.”

She says that since Nkosi addressed the AIDS conference in Durban in 2000, there have been improvements in South Africa’s AIDS policies. But she says much more still needs to be done. Johnson says the care given at Nkosi’s Haven should be available countrywide.