Home > Written Reviews, Written Reviews > “5B” Startling and Heroic

“5B” Startling and Heroic





Review by John Delia, Sr.

Eye opening, sometimes sad and chilling the AIDS epidemic of the 70’s gets a birds eye view of one of the most horrible times in American History. The documentary is titled 5B after the ward that was set up at San Francisco Hospital to take in the large number of patients that were diagnosed positive with HIV.


Ward 5B nurses Sasha Cuttler and Mary Magee. Credit: San Francisco General Hospital AIDS Ward 5B/5A Archives, SFH 12, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. Credit (Cannes ONLY): Courtesy of San Francisco Public Library


It’s 1973 and with rock n roll music in the background and showing the streets of the iconic city filled with partying and congregation of a same sex society. Using stock footage of the bay area shows the rise of the gay revolution that includes both men and women outing themselves and feeling free of denigration. Covered as they did with the Hippie Love-in Generation by local and national news, the era is becoming openly accepted in the city and elsewhere.

Then, from out of nowhere many gays start falling sick to a mysterious disease that attacks their immune system and putting thousands on notice. San Francisco General Hospital becomes the home base for the stricken and they are dumbfounded on what to do about the disease that has become epidemic. Reports from major TV news stations insinuate that it may be contagious and label the illness HIV AIDS.


Ward 5B patient Shane Harjo and his mother Janet.  Credit: Mary Asbury


This is the documented story of how one group of medical staff set up a ward called 5B and without regard to their own safety, treated those that have entered their floor with dignity. Filmmakers Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss take you back to the uncertain period and with the use of photos, news reports, stock footage and interviews, play out those trying times and bring the heroes to light.

5B has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic content including unsettling images, and some strong language.


Ward 5B caregiver Rita Rockett visits with a patient. Credit: Ken Kobré


The movie is made very well and puts the audience on the doorstep of the worst epidemic of all time that even today still works its way in society. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation:

“The first cases of what would later become known as AIDS were reported in the United States in June of 1981. Today, there are more than 1.1 million people living with HIV and more than 700,000 people with AIDS have died since the beginning of the epidemic.

HIV continues to have a disproportionate impact on certain populations, particularly racial and ethnic minorities and gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.

HIV testing is important for both treatment and prevention efforts. Yet, 15% of those infected with HIV are unaware they are infected.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has substantially reduced AIDS-related morbidity and mortality and improved long-term outcomes for people with HIV. Treatment guidelines recommend initiating treatment as soon as one is diagnosed with HIV. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when an individual living with HIV is on antiretroviral therapy and the level of HIV in their body is undetectable, there is “effectively no risk” of sexual transmission. Still, many people with HIV are not in care, on treatment, or have their virus under control.

Numerous federal and local government departments and agencies are involved in the domestic HIV/AIDS response, which together provide disease surveillance, prevention, care, support services, and health insurance coverage. Additionally, the private sector and community-based organizations, provide services for people with HIV and those at risk for HIV.” https://www.kff.org/hivaids/fact-sheet/the-hivaids-epidemic-in-the-united-states-the-basics/

FINAL ANALYSIS: An excellent wakeup call and overdue film of heroism and selflessness. (5 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Includes as themselves Alison Moed Paolercio, Cliff Morrison, David Denmark
Directed and written by: Paul Haggis, Dan Krauss
Genre: Documentary
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for thematic content including unsettling images, and some strong language.
Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.
Opening Date: June 14, 2019
Distributed by: RYOT Films
Released in: Standard

facebook comments:

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.