Wilhemina's War

A Southern grandmother struggles to help her granddaughter survive the health risks and social stigma of living with HIV in South Carolina.

Film Signature Image
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
February 29, 2016
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Diversity Development Fund
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2016 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Outstanding Politics and Government
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2016 Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival- Best Documentary
  • June Cross

    June Cross

    June Cross has won two national Emmys and two duPont-Columbia Journalism Awards. Her previous work includes Wilhemina’s War, which follows a Southern grandmother who struggles to help her granddaughter survive the health risks and social stigma of living with HIV in South Carolina. Her film The Old Man and the Storm followed the travails of an extended Show more New Orleans family for three years after Hurricane Katrina. She was an executive producer for This Far by Faith, a six-part PBS series on the African American religious experience broadcasted in 2003.

    During her career, she completed eight documentaries for Frontline. She has also worked at CBS News, and PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. She is the author of Secret Daughter, published by Viking in 2006, and based on an earlier documentary she produced that aired on Frontline. She is the founder of the Documentary Program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. Show less

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    The Film

    AIDS is one of the leading causes of death for black women in the rural South, where living with HIV is a grim reality. Wilhemina Dixon, her daughter Toni, granddaughter Dayshal, and her 92-year-old mother, all the descendants of sharecroppers, live in South Carolina. Wilhemina cares for Dayshal, 19, who was born with HIV. We first meet Dayshal at 14, as a high school freshman, when she’s reticent to discuss her disease and the side effects of her medications make her sick. She spends most of her days in bed. Her mother, a drug addict, dies of AIDS, but Dayshal is uncertain whether she will avoid her mother’s fate.

    Fighting the grim reality that awaits those living with HIV in a state hostile to public health care are advocates like Vivian Clark-Armstead of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council, the only organization in the state that runs prevention and education efforts. Wilhemina’s War explores Southern black women’s experience, where sexual networks are smaller, rumors spread fast, and church-imposed stigma drives the sick underground.