What If AIDS Never Happened?

What would Keith Haring look like if he was alive today?

What would the world be like if the AIDS epidemic hadn’t robbed us of gay trailblazers like Robert Mapplethorpe, Sylvester and Keith Haring? Would we have just elected our first gay president instead of Donald Trump?

“Fathers,” an ambitious new project from filmmaker Leo Herrera, imagines that world with digital portraits of what these icons and others would look like if they were still alive today.

vito russo fathers
Leo Herrera

“I was first inspired by the ’Have You Seen Me?’ notices that were delivered to your home or on milk cartons,” Herrera told 48hills.org. “You would see the missing child in the photograph where they were aged to what they would look like now, often years after their abduction. I always wondered what the parents felt like.”

Bret Lindell

Herrera grew up an undocumented Mexican immigrant in Arizona, before spending time in New York and San Francisco. In addition to being a filmmaker, he’s also an activist, responsible for films like Blood Mirror, which protests the FDA’s ban on gay blood donations.

For “Fathers,” he used an age-progression forensic technique (similar to the one police use to find missing children), along with historical research and input from loved ones, to imagine those lost to AIDS as happy older men in a modern world that embraces them and celebrates their contributions.

“Each of the age-metamorphoses took about 40 hours—I was staring into the eyes of these subjects I had thought so much about for 40 hours as I worked on aging them. It was very affecting,” Herrera said.

The emergence of PrEP, the once-a-day pill that helps protect HIV-negative people from contracting the virus, changed the trajectory of the film.

“The original project was to make a film asking, ‘What if they had found a cure for AIDS?’” he explained. “But then PrEP came on the scene, and a very interesting thing started happening in the community. It was very confusing at first, having something like PrEP, and I think the community really felt a need to hear from its elders, for guidance. But AIDS had ensured there were few left. It made me think of what it would be like if none of this had happened.”

Herrera is currently fundraising in partnership with San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society to complete the film. If they meet their $15,000 goal, he aims to release the “faux documentary” in 2017.



I believe that true, well-told stories have the power to change the world for good. I also love a good listicle.