clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Documentary 'When AIDS Was Funny' Shows Reagan Administration's Indifference

White House spokesman Larry Speakes makes homophobic jokes when asked about the rising epidemic.

Universal History Archive/Getty Images

A new documentary short film, “When Aids Was Funny,” chillingly illustrates how little the Reagan administration cared about the gathering AIDS crisis in the early 1980s.

Filmmaker Scott Calonico unearthed audio recordings of White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes deflecting reporter Lester Kinsolving’s questions about the growing epidemic with homophobic remarks and an obvious lack of interest, as the rest of the White House press corps chortles.

“Lester was known as somewhat of a kook and a crank (many people still feel the same way),” Calonico told Vanity Fair, which released the documentary online. “But, at the time, he was just a journalist asking questions only to be mocked by both the White House and his peers.”

The film punctuates each exchange with stark black-and-white portraits of gaunt AIDS patients, and the mounting death toll from the illness.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.