Inaccurate Newsweek article by Ramin Setoodeh

I was just sent the link to this movie review/article about the new Pedro Zamora film. There were comments about me made in the article that are totally fictitious and potentially dangerous. Mr. Setoodeh stated that the producers of Project Runway hid my HIV status until I was rushed to the hospital in episode 5. This is totally incorrect. I revealed my HIV status during the second episode of my own volition and they were happy to have me speak openly about it. Ardent Project Runway fans will remember the scene when I am on the bed will my bag of meds and vitamins taking about living with HIV for 19 years. It is not something I am even mildly ashamed of and NO ONE else who is HIV+ should be ashamed of their status either. The article implies that it was some deep dark secret which could not be further from the truth. This sends a horrible message to the HIV+ community. I think it was very irresponsible of him to not fact check his article before he published it. It also implies that my HIV staus was revealed when I was “rushed” to the hospital for the staph infection in my face and that my HIV status and the staph infection were somehow linked. This is also not true. My HIV status had nothing to do with the staph infection and all monitored aspects of my immune system fall well within the “normal” HIV- range.
I never returned to the show that season because by the time I got out of the hospital 5 days later I had already missed 2 challenges and it was logistically impossible. As Mr. Setoodeh should know, TV filming schedules and actual air dates are very different. Plus, even if they could have figured out a way to bring me back on, it would not have been fair since I had been off site unsupervised.
I know that he was attempting to highlight that there needs to be more media attention brought to HIV/AIDS, which I commend, but his efforts probably had the reverse, or at least a negative, effect. I find it offensive that he suggests that there are no role models speaking openly and publicly about the issue. True there are a lack of “celebrities” that divulge their status but there are thousands of people doing great advocacy work in the HIV/AIDS field. I have been working with Merck on Living Positive by Design for the past year and have personally helped many people. The fact that this is no longer the hot topic that it was during the Pedro Zamora era is not for lack of effort.  OK. I said my piece. I feel better.
The article is below.
Courtesy of Bunium-Murray Films

A Made-for-TV Mistake

MTV’s Pedro Zamora movie needs to get real.

Pedro Zamora appeared on the third season of MTV’s “The Real World” in 1994, and he’s still arguably the show’s best-known alumnus. Zamora was an AIDS activist and the first HIV-positive man to appear on a television series. By the time he died, on the day after his final “Real World” episode aired, he had become the public face of the disease—toward the end, President Clinton even called to offer moral support. So it’s no surprise that MTV has decided to bring Zamora back, in a sense, from the dead. He showed up recently on “The Real World: Brooklyn” (the 21st season) when this year’s cast was given the job of staging a screening for MTV’s upcoming biopic “Pedro.” Never mind the shamelessness of the cross-promotion—what was really sad was that when it came time for the “Pedro” screening, almost no one showed up.

And the world could use another Pedro Zamora right now. HIV prevention has dropped off the cultural radar in recent years, thanks in large part to the medical advances that have occurred since Zamora’s death. There’s no shortage of gay characters on reality TV or scripted dramas, but not many bring up HIV. It’s hard to name a mainstream movie in the past decade in which a character dies of AIDS. The producers of “Project Runway” hid the HIV status of one of their 2007 contestants, Jack Mackenroth, until he was rushed to the hospital because of a staph infection. After he revealed his condition, he never returned to the show. It’s all too clear that the silence is becoming deadly once again. A report from the New York Department of Health found that HIV infections among gay men under the age of 30 rose 33 percent from 2001 to 2006. This month a study found that 3 percent of residents in Washington, D.C., have HIV or AIDS, which makes the virus more common there than in West Africa. Just last week during a trip to Africa, Pope Benedict said that condom use actually “increases the problem” of AIDS.

“Pedro” could have been just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, the movie is so dull and disease-of-the-week derivative, it’s not likely to have much of an effect beyond putting people to sleep. The film starts with Pedro’s audition tape for “The Real World”—there’s a lot of “Real World” on display—before flashing back to his journey from Cuba and through the rest of his short life, which ended when he was only 22. Alex Loynaz, the actor playing Pedro, has the thankless task of re-creating verbatim some of the memorable scenes from “The Real World.” The screenplay, by Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”), never teaches us anything about Zamora that you couldn’t learn from his Wikipedia entry. The power of Pedro’s story was its rawness and how “real” it really felt. We watched him go from gorgeous to gaunt, from a TV star to a powerful voice for HIV awareness, and beyond. His wedding to his HIV-positive partner, also broadcast on TV, was the first time most ’90s teens saw two men kiss. When MTV showed his coffin being carried across a graveyard, he became a martyr. Zamora lobbied on Capitol Hill many times. During a 1993 trip to Washington he said, “Since I was 18 years old I’ve been doing education across the country. I remember when I started doing it, how angry I was. I promised myself never to stop. Now I spend more and more time worrying about my doctor’s appointments.” He fought back tears, and he continued, “I wonder now as I look around me who’s going to pick up my torch.” Sadly, we’re still wondering.


4 Responses to “Inaccurate Newsweek article by Ramin Setoodeh”

  1. WOW… This guy didn’t do a whole lot of research about your Runway experience. I hope you’re also writing to the editors at Newsweek over this inaccuracy that is presented as fact.

  2. Ken Bone Says:

    Hang in there Jack. I have the highest respect and admiration for you.

  3. I tried to leave my comment @ Newsweek but no matter how many diff passwords I used it would not allow me to register. So I’ll leave it here,

    I was happy when Jack Mackenroth joined the cast of Project Runway because he was putting another face to HIV+/AIDS. A very handsome face I might add.

    Perhaps you are mixing him up with the interior design contestant that had to leave that other show because of his problems with his HIV+ that he hadn’t disclosed from the beginning?

  4. To Jack,
    Cudo’s and comgrats on being the kind of person we so desperately need these days.
    And to NEWSWEEK, once again, as usual, you have gone and put more crap out there to inforce the negativity a lot of people deal with on a regular basis, and all for a buck. To bad! I have decided to personally end my subscription with your magazine. Let’s face it, money is tight, and I just don’t want to have to pay for a sloppy product, when there are so many other acurate periodicals I could be buying. Cheers to you Jack!
    I have known John for a long time. So any friend of his can always consider themselves a friend of mine!
    Be well!


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