Miss Evers' Boys Reviews
For those still unaware, in 1932, a group of govermental physicians selected about 400 black men with syphilis and left them untreated. At the time, they were probably safer--treatments for syphilis at the time were pretty horrific, and they generally didn't work very well anyway. However, by 1947, there was penicillin, which actually works to treat the disease without the nasty side effects of, say, mercury rubs. (Really.) The study continued, however, with lists of its participants being circulated to area hospitals to prevent any of the participants from actually receiving care. The study had been intended to last forty years, and by Gods, it was going to last forty years, and nothing like a cure was going to get in the way. Of course, these were men with wives and children, and syphilis is a contagious disease--to the wives, obviously, and the children born with it--but hey, it's all for science, right?
The movie, which is based on a stage play, focuses on Eunice Evers, R.N. (Alfre Woodward), one of the supervisors of the study. She has spent her career helping members of the community, and she really does believe that the study will do her people some good. However, she becomes less and less sure of that, especially when the man she loves, Caleb Humphries (Laurence Fishburne), gets treatment and is even able to join the Army. She wonders why the others cannot receive the same shot and have the same result, but the doctors tell her they can't, and she believes them. After all, they're doctors. They wouldn't do anything to harm their patients, right?
There really was a Eunice Evers; more than that, I cannot say. It seems likely to me that she experienced doubts over the validity of the study, but I cannot fathom that anyone would not, especially watching the Tertiary Stage patients go mad and die. If, as the movie shows us, she really had come to know and befriend various of the patients, it seems certain that she really wanted the best for them. Everyone connected to the study had a reason to participate, and I think many of them thought it would actually do some good. Never mind that it's a disease that might theoretically get wiped out. There were still people who thought we needed to know how people die of it. There are people who will be able to be clinical about anything. On the one hand, we need them in order to get anything done. On the other, we need oversight in order to make sure that the thing needs to get done in the first place.
The participation of these men was initially bought for $50. It's depressing, really, that it was probably more money than most of them had seen at any one time in their lives. Oh, it's true that $50 was a lot more then than it is now, but still. To gamble for one's life for $50 in almost any time is a thing to be avoided, and it's horrifying that these men didn't even know that it was what they were doing.
The flaws first: the acting in this movie is frankly sub-par, despite its very good cast. The movie was not sure who to focus on in terms of development, so it tried to tackle showing all of them, and it ust ending up with a lot of shallow characters.
The good parts: sets were great, I really felt like I was there. The story really conveyed the tragedy effectively, in no small part that it was so well paced.
The movie was trying to show what happened with the Tuskeegee Experiment, in which the United States government knowingly and willfully experimented on a group of black people to see the effects of syphilis over a period of time, in order to see if they reacted differently than white people, even though they had a known cure for the disease. It is a very important piece of history in illustrating very blatant racism, and reminding us that we aren't out of the woods yet.
These men were lied to. They were told they were getting treatment when in reality, they were only being studied. Even after penicillin was discovered to cure this disease, the goverment still withheld treatment from these men so the ravages of the disease could continue to be studied. They eventually developed tertiary (late stage) syphilis and went blind, crazy or had neurological deficits. They finally held a senate hearing in 1973 but by then, there were only about 127 men left out of the original 400 plus they had started with.
Its about the Tuskeegee Experiment which if you know about it you should see the film and if you don't know about it SEE the movie.