Panic Street Lawyer: How to survive a Skyfall

Sunday, 17 February 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20110220 oscar 150By the end of last Sunday’s Grammys broadcast, I was pleased with the fact that the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach had won four awards (making it a career total of seven, at age 33) and Chris Brown had won none. While many of the music category results were unpredictable, one was very predictable; namely, the category Adele was in.

On February 10, British singer Adele Laurie Blue Adkins won her ninth career Grammy – at age 21 – for Best Pop Solo Performance (for “Set Fire to the Rain”). Adele did not sing at the 2013 Grammys but she is scheduled to sing at the 2013 Oscars. Her song on the schedule for February 24 (“Skyfall,” which is the theme song to the twenty-third James Bond movie) is nominated for Best Original Song. Winning a Grammy and an Oscar within a fourteen-day period? Adele, take a[nother] bow.

In case you have not heard “Skyfall,” here are the song’s 2012 chorus lyrics:

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Or face it all together
At skyfall

Just this week, it struck me that this song title and these lyrics have similarities to my favorite R.E.M. song, from 1986. With help from the video, here is how that song ends:

Buy the sky and sell the sky
And lift your arms up to the sky
And ask the sky, and ask the sky
Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for)
Fall on me (if it's there for long)
Fall on me (it's over, it's over me)

What does music, the year 1986, and a falling sky have to do with next Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, specifically the award for Best Documentary Feature? After all, James Bond is a fictional character, and there was no James Bond movie released in 1986. Adele was not alive in 1986. R.E.M. has broken up. And the Best Original Song for a 1986 movie (“[I’ve Had] The Time of My Life”) merits no law-related analysis now.

20130217wap searchsugarman 150Sixto Rodriguez in a scene from "Searching for Sugar Man." Sony Pictures Classics photoOf the five films released in 2012 that have been nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar, one directly involves music: Searching for Sugar Man. In 1986, the musician about whom the documentary was made – Detroit singer/songwriter/guitarist Sixto Rodriguez – was working a nine-to-five job and spending time with his family. He had not had a new album of songs out in 15 years, and he was 12 years away from being “found” by fans at stadium concerts across South Africa. I will not say any more here about this “feel-good” mystery film, in case you do not know the story. But be careful: an online search today for Searching for Sugar Man that uses the words “Oscar” and “South Africa” will turn up instead a very bitter story.

There is a second nominated Best Documentary Feature that, while taking the viewer almost all the way back to 1986, has nothing to do with music. That film is How to Survive a Plague, and that plague is AIDS. Between 1981 and 1986, 31,452 Americans died from AIDS or AIDS-related diseases, and to the family and friends of the deceased, it must have seemed as if the sky was slowly crumbling on their world.

The early history of the domestic AIDS epidemic was actually told in an earlier documentary, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt. That film told the moving stories of five Americans who died from AIDS and who were then memorialized in panels as part of the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. Common Threads ends with the first display of the Quilt at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1987. The film was released in 1989 and it won the Best Documentary Feature award at the 1990 Academy Awards.

20130217wap surviveplague 150Scene from "How to Survive a Plague." Donna Binder /Sundance SelectsSurvive a Plague picked up telling the story of AIDS in America where Common Threads ended it, with the first class of antiretroviral drugs and the beginning of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1987. The story after 1986 is a more hopeful one, but only because advocacy groups such as ACT UP and later the Treatment Action Group (TAG) did their homework and kept pressure on the government to end the crisis. With the effectiveness of the protease inhibitor class of antiretroviral drugs starting in 1996, and the revelation of the fate of the heroic AIDS activists seen in the video footage, Survive a Plague looks as if it going to also have a “feel-good” ending …

But while the film declares that protease inhibitors have saved 6,000,000 lives, Survive a Plague also points out that there are 2,000,000 people who die every year because they cannot afford AIDS drugs. So ACT UP’s advocacy work is not over.

Nor, sadly, is legal work in support of persons living with HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has a website dedicated to fighting discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. There you can read about three settlements reached in 2013 on behalf of patients at medical providers in North Carolina, Missouri, and Virginia. And lest you think that fear and misinformation about the disease exists today only below the Mason-Dixon Line, you can read at the website about last year’s lawsuit against nearby Milton Hershey School and the school’s $700,000 settlement payment to “Abraham Smith.”

So while I am a big fan of music documentaries, my personal favorite to win Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Academy Award is the film about the men and women who stood tall and faced the plague all together – and survived it.


The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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